The Almost Christmas actress spoke specifically about being a black woman in the entertainment industry, addressing the “sense of being hyper-visible or invisible on sets.” She said that it’s exhausting to be constantly pointing out racial microaggressions while also working fulltime. “When do you stand up and point out every microaggression, and when do you stand down so you’re not the angry black person all the time?” asked Union. “It’s tiring. It feels like another job that you’re not getting paid for — that is all-encompassing.”
The actress has been open about being a sexual assault survivor, and she said that she was excited about her part in Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, because she saw it as an opportunity to speak up about sexual assault. “I need you to connect me to rape, because that’s my reality.”
“I was going to then go on a press tour and be able to say all the things that I’ve wanted to say, that I’ve been saying for the past 25 years — whether that be testifying before Congress or state legislatures — to the biggest audience I was ever going to get to listen to me talk about sexual assault, and the history of sexual assault being used as a weapon of mass destruction against black female bodies,” said Union. She said she’s spoken with Lena Dunham about white privilege, and has offered conversations to other white female celebrities like Amy Schumer and Kate Upton, in which she could “help to explain the oppressive systems that have benefited and allowed them to say these careless, insensitive and offensive things.”
Union expressed her concern about racism in America, saying that the “venom has not lessened” since The Birth of a Nation first premiered at Sundance. She speaks with her sons about what it means to be a black man in this country. “They ask logical questions and there’s no rhyme or reason — you can’t make your children feel any safer by saying it was just random,” said the actress. “Just their physical presence puts them in danger, because their blackness has been criminalized.”
The actress said when she first read the script for the Nat Turner biopic Birth of a Nation, the release of which was marred by resurfaced rape allegations against Parker, she was excited about the film.
“I just read it like: We’re fighting back. We’re not taking it. We don’t need Brad Pitt to come save us. And we’re badasses. And like, F—. All. Y’all. It’s on,” said the actress.
She laments what happened with the film, particularly given Aja Naomi King’s performance in the movie. “This could have been her big break,” said Union. “This big job that gives her the accolades and attention that she deserves. It’s like we all got thrown out. It’s like the baby and the bathwater all went down the drain.”