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Women’s advocacy group Time’s Up and several women in Hollywood have shown support for Gabrielle Union after the actress was let go from her position as a judge on NBC’s America’s Got Talent.
After just one season, the actress — joining fellow newcomer Julianne Hough in getting benched — was dismissed last week after she reportedly made a complaint about the show’s “toxic culture.” Union’s exit, in particular, has prompted renewed speculation over the show’s treatment of people of color and some calls for a boycott on Twitter.
SAG-AFTRA has also launched an investigation into Union’s departure.
“Thank you @itsgabrielleu for speaking up for what’s right,” Time’s Up wrote via its official Twitter account.
Time’s Up’s tweet was in response to a tweet from Union, in which she thanked her peers and fans for their outpouring of support following the AGT news. “So many tears, so much gratitude. THANK YOU!” she wrote. “Just when you feel lost, adrift, alone…you got me up off the ground. Humbled and thankful, forever.”
The organization formed in the wake of #MeToo has since followed up its tweet by launching a petition urging NBCUniversal leaders to take Union’s allegations seriously and to take concrete steps to foster a safe and equitable workplace. In a statement, Time’s Up called Union’s departure an example of the “double blind that black women face at work” and called out a “pattern” at NBCUniversal in wake of the recent allegations against the company’s handling of Matt Lauer and the Harvey Weinstein investigation.
Tina Tchen, Time’s Up president and CEO, said, “Gabrielle Union’s experience at America’s Got Talent is exemplary of the double bind that black women face at work. Not only did Union reportedly endure and witness racist and inappropriate behavior — including racially-insensitive comments and excessive criticism about her physical appearance — but it also appears she was punished for speaking out: the company labeled her as ‘difficult’ before ousting her from the show altogether.”
The statement continues, “Union’s story is deeply troubling on its own, but her experience is particularly problematic because it follows a pattern of NBCUniversal protecting the careers of powerful men at the expense of women who speak out. Union’s experience shows that NBCUniversal still has a lot of work to do to change its culture so discrimination, harassment, and retaliation are no longer tolerated at the company. Building a culture of safety and equity requires continuous, intentional work sustained over a long period of time — even when a company isn’t in the throes of a crisis.
“Ensuring people of all kinds are respected and supported at work is critical for any company, but especially a media company like NBC that has such an outsized influence in our culture and in our lives.”
According to a Nov. 26 report from Variety, Union was told on several occasions that her rotating hairstyles on the show were “too black.” The report also stated that Union made a complaint about a racially charged joke by AGT guest Jay Leno, in which Leno said that a painting of dogs with creator Simon Cowell looked like it belonged “on the menu at a Korean restaurant.” The joke was later cut out of the episode.
A source close to the show confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that the Leno joke happened and was never considered fit to air, but could not corroborate the claims involving Union’s hair.
Additionally, according to a recent Vulture report, Union had a months-long struggle with Cowell and his indoor smoking, which is against California law. Union is reportedly allergic to cigarette smoke and brought up the issue to the show’s fire marshal.
Patricia Arquette and Ellen Pompeo were among the notable names who applauded Union for taking a stand. Calling the alleged incidents “terrible,” Arquette wrote that Union “should not be penalized for trying to have a workplace that honors the rule of law in the workplace.”
Tweeted Pompeo, “It’s unfortunate that @nbc the same network that protected disgusting men like Matt Lauer and punished women for speaking out or not putting up with it…has not changed their practices or culture.” She added that Union’s “commitment to speaking up to injustice takes courage.”
Pompeo also wrote that “workplace cultures will continue to be toxic until there is unity and solidarity among all women. If you go for self in these moments you undermine the work we are out here trying to do. Obviously this network feels like they can operate like this and it’s okay.”
Though Union has not explicitly addressed the reports, her husband, retired NBA shooting guard Dwyane Wade, confirmed that her parting from AGT was not amicable.
“When i got the news that my wife was being fired — my first question was obviously why!? I am still waiting on a good answer to that question,” he wrote in one post, before continuing: “As proud as I [was] of her being selected as a judge on #AGT — I am even more proud of her [for] standing up for what she stands for and that’s US.”
Wade’s comments prompted a surge in dialogue about Union’s exit on Twitter and the hashtag #BoycottAGT.
Dec. 2, 11:40 a.m. Updated to include Time’s Up statement.
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