Three Cheers for Gabrielle Union, the Work Ally We All Need

She’s not afraid to stand up for what’s right

Katherine Singh
Gabrielle Union smiles and looks over her shoulder. She is wearing a gold, embroidered dress with shoulder pads and her hair is in a slick top-knot
(Photo: Getty Images)

On November 27, it was announced that actress Gabrielle Union was fired from the reality competition show America’s Got Talent: The Champions (AGT). After only one season as a judge on the popular NBC show (her initial contract was for three seasons, per Vulture), Union was unceremoniously kicked to the curb alongside co-judge Julianne Hough, and appropriately, our reaction was:

Not only was Union arguably the best part of the show, but the reported reasoning for her firing was seriously bonkers. Union was reportedly let go after being deemed “difficult” by execs and series producer Simon Cowell for calling out AGT’s toxic work environment. Among her *super* difficult behaviour? Asking that co-judge Cowell not smoke indoors (Union is allergic to cigarette smoke and their dressing rooms didn’t have walls), calling out racist comments made by a guest judge and asking performers their pronouns. You know, just awful diva behaviour. *Eye roll*

While Cowell and NBC execs may have branded the Being Mary Jane actress and mama to Kaavia as difficult, we can’t help but think that she’s exactly the type of person we’d want to work with, because sounds like Union is the ultimate work ally. Here’s why.

She’s not afraid to stand up for others

At the heart of a lot of Union’s behaviour that was allegedly deemed “difficult” by NBC and Cowell was sensitivity or concern for others (how dare she?!). According to Vulture, there were at least two instances in which Union—while judging on the show—pushed for certain footage to not be aired, concerned that what she perceived as racist comments or actions by guest judges and contestants would affect viewers from those communities that might be watching the show.

The first instance occurred when former late night host Jay Leno was a guest judge in April. Per Vulture‘s sources, after Cowell was gifted a painting of himself and his dogs by a contestant, Leno remarked that the painting “looked like something on the menu at a Korean restaurant” a comment that subscribes to the racist stereotype that all Korean people eat dog meat.

        Read this next: Can Yogurt Cure a Yeast Infection? Gabrielle Union Thinks So

Which is just, ugh.

Union was reportedly (and understandably) upset by this. An Asian staff member was also reportedly upset by it, which is all the producers and Leno needed to know in order to understand that it was indeed a bad (and seriously problematic) comment.

In another incident, Union was called out questionable behaviour by a male contestant from Italy, when the competitor—while performing a medley of impressions of other singers—pulled out and put on black gloves when performing as Beyoncé. Union referred to this as “blackface hands” and was apparently concerned that the audience would be exposed to this. Thankfully, both instances didn’t air.

And if you didn’t already love her enough, Union was reportedly slapped with the label “difficult” for asking contestants dressed in drag what their preferred pronouns are. Which is honestly just a considerate thing to do? Seriously, what’s the AGT producers’ beef?

And encourages others to do the same

But besides standing up for those around her, according to sources, Union also encouraged others to voice their grievances and band together to put an end to toxic behaviour in the workplace. During the aforementioned Leno debacle, the Bring It On actress reportedly encouraged producers to file a complaint with human resources. She also repeatedly asked others to bring up and help her address Cowell’s disgusting, woefully inconsiderate (and technically illegal) habit of smoking indoors (which c’mon, it’s 2019…that’s just gross).

What’s better than someone who stands up for you? Someone who encourages you and supports you to stand up and advocate for yourself. You know, that whole “teach a man to fish” adage. We stan an ally who helps others help themselves!!

Plus, she’s unapologetically herself

One of the more egregious things Union reportedly endured (and TBH, one that clearly demonstrates just how toxic the AGT set is) was constant criticism about her hair. While Hough also reportedly received “excessive notes” about her appearance, Union in particular was repeatedly told that her hairstyles were “too Black” for the audience.

        Read this next: If It Feels Like Racism in Canada is Getting Worse, That’s Because It Is

First of all, Union’s hair is straight up beautiful. Secondly, WTF does that even mean? She is a Black woman, of course her hair is going to be that of a Black woman’s. She can’t change that, you idiots! And people say racism is dead (which, for the record, it is not).

While we’re not privy to exactly *what* Union said in response to these racist critiques, if her social media presence is anything to go off of, Union knows she’s the shit. And she’s proud of her heritage—both racially and culturally—frequently celebrating she and her daughter’s gorgeous skin on social media.

And being her—with her “too Black” hair and all—has paid off. While it may not have translated to high ratings on the show, Union was clearly a fan fave judge, who became well known for her thoughtful insight and sincerity on the show. And let’s be honest: She made a show dominated for years by two mediocre white men actually engaging.

So go on with your bad self, Gabrielle!

And doesn’t take BS, from legit anyone

But what makes Union arguably one of the best workplace allies? She isn’t afraid to stand up for what’s right, even when her job is clearly on the line. When Union was pushing back, she wasn’t just pushing back at a fellow judge, but standing up to her backwards AF boss and the people who employed her. Listen, we all know by now that Cowell is legit trash. He’s made a career out of being a complete dink, and it doesn’t seem like that’s going to let up anytime soon. But regardless of this fact, Union continued to make her (very reasonable) requests and complaints. And ultimately, it cost her her job.

Read this next: I Couldn’t Embrace My Natural Hair Until I Unlearned Internalized Racism

Obviously it’s important to note that as famous women who have income channels and likely millions of dollars in the bank already, both Union and Hough are more privileged than most in this situation. But it was still a financial risk to speak up, nonetheless. And these are the kind of people you want on and by your side in the workplace—the ones who speak up to injustices, no matter the cost.

So, yeah, Gabrielle Union is pretty much the best. And you just know that she’d send hilarious memes in the company Slack channel.

Filed under:

Sign Up for Our Newsletter

FLARE - Newsletter Signup

Subscribe to FLARE Need to Know for smart, sassy, no-filter takes on everything you're interested in—including style, culture & current events, plus special offers—sent straight to your inbox each day. Sign up here.