Gabrielle Union Talks 'America's Got Talent' In a Candid Interview

"You are not going to gaslight me into minimizing my trauma," Union said.

paris, france january 19 gabrielle union attends the lanvin menswear fallwinter 2020 2021 show as part of paris fashion week on january 19, 2020 in paris, france photo by dominique charriauwireimage
(Image credit: Dominique Charriau)
  • Gabrielle Union is Marie Claire's October digital cover star. Read the story here.
  • She opened up about the horrifying racism she experienced as a judge on America's Got Talent, and why she chose to speak out.
  • "You are not going to gaslight me into minimizing my trauma, which is exactly what allows this to continue on for the next person," Union said.

Gabrielle Union is Marie Claire's latest digital cover star, and she spoke with MC about her experience as a judge on America's Got Talent. After she left the show, Union filed a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, describing NBC as a "snake pit of racial offenses" (earlier this month, she and NBC released a statement announcing they'd reached an "amicable resolution").

Union reflected on the "excessive notes" she received about her appearance, particularly concerning her hair, which producers called "too wild"—which, she said, was code for "too Black." She told Marie Claire, "I should be able to exist however the f*** I want to exist, because if you’re hiring Gabrielle Union for my talent, then my talent is going to come out of my body in every way, shape, and incarnation that I can imagine. You’re getting more bang for your buck the more you allow me to exist as I see fit."

She spoke, too, about the environment she experienced on set, from Simon Cowell smoking indoors despite her serious cigarette smoke allergy, to Jay Leno making a racist joke suggesting Korean people ate dogs, to a stark lack of diversity on the show. Asked whether she considered Cowell a racist, she responded, "I am one who calls people who continuously exhibit racist behavior racist," adding, "but for the super sensitive, I will say he has exhibited wildly problematic behavior."

Union said she was unsurprised, albeit disappointed, by the lack of support she received from other Black NBC stars, including Al Roker and Terry Crews. "These racist institutions and systems have done an amazing job at keeping us very fearful of speaking up, asking for equality, and asking for accountability, because they have shown us time and time again that we are disposable," she said. "They will discredit and malign you, and you will never work again.…Being blackballed in this industry is very real."

Moreover, she spoke out against those who called her case against NBC an act of retribution for being fired as a judge on America's Got Talent. "That very sentiment is how all of this has been allowed to go on for centuries; that kind of gaslighting, I categorically reject. You are not going to gaslight me into minimizing my trauma, which is exactly what allows this to continue on for the next person," Union said.

Union said age, as well as therapy, allowed her to speak out. After turning 40, she "emptied out [her] basket of f***s," she said. "I cannot center fear in my life. I can’t center functioning from a fear of scarcity. They say silence is violence, and I refuse to be complicit in my silence. I have to be fully present in my body and fully free."

Emily Dixon
Morning Editor

Emily Dixon is a British journalist who’s contributed to CNN, Teen Vogue, Time, Glamour, The Guardian, Wonderland, The Big Roundtable, Bust, and more, on everything from mental health to fashion to political activism to feminist zine collectives. She’s also a committed Beyoncé, Kacey Musgraves, and Tracee Ellis Ross fan, an enthusiastic but terrible ballet dancer, and a proud Geordie lass.