Gabrielle Union just gave her most candid interview to date about her time on America’s Got Talent , Simon Cowell , Julianne Hough , Terry Crews and everything in between. The actress and activist, who is suing NBC for firing her from the hit competition show last year, joined Spotify’s Jemele Hill Is Unbothered podcast and didn’t hold anything back when discussing the show’s alleged toxic workplace culture .
During the hour-long chat, Hill asked her friend “what the f*** is up” with Crews. The AGT host has made headlines recently for his controversial tweets about the Black Lives Matter movement and Black supremacy . After Union’s firing, he was widely criticized for staying silent amid the controversy. Instead, he did a series of interviews , including one on NBC’s Today show, where he praised the network and gushed about his positive experience.
“People hit me all day long and are like, what’s happening? And the only thing I know for sure is that Terry Crews gets three checks from NBC. So, I don’t know if being worried about job stability — which listen, we all know that if you speak up about racism and white supremacy, you absolutely can be shown the door,” Union speculated. “I don’t know if that’s the motivation.”
Union referenced some critics who pointed out she wasn’t the only Black person on AGT .
“I was like, ‘No, I was on there — with Terry Crews ,’” she quipped. “Based on his recent actions, do you really think Terry Crews was an ally, was helpful, was a sounding board? I think Terry Crews is showing us who he is and what he does during times of adversity and it’s not solidarity.”
Union explained the support she gave Crews when he came forward with his assault allegation at the start of the #MeToo movement was not reciprocated.
“Not to say if I offer you solidarity I expect you to be the getaway driver during a bank robbery — that’s what he made it sound like in one of those series of tweets. If you saw something, say something. If you didn’t have my experience… you also have an option to say, ‘I believe Gab, I just had a different experience.’ End of story,” Union shared. “You don’t have to do a press tour where your sole objective is to discredit and malign me. You know, I’ve been in Hollywood a very long time. There’s very little that surprises me, but that was very disappointing for sure.”
Hill agreed, saying it was “unnecessary” for Crews to go “out of his way to invalidate you when he did that piece on the Today show.”
“At the end of the day, the work that I am doing to make sure that NBC is a more fair and equitable place of employment will benefit you as well,” Union said of Crews. “So it’s OK to eat your cereal and let me do my thing and get out of the way. If you’re not going to help, then get out of the way. If you don’t feel financially comfortable, or spiritually comfortable or you flat out disagree, but at the end of the day he will benefit from a safer, more equitable workplace from what I stuck my neck out to do and got fired for, you know? Instead of actively working against progress.”
Union hinted more is going to come out amid her lawsuit and Crews will “regret” the side he chose.
“Since I’ve been so vocal about what happened, the floodgates have opened. This reckoning is just hitting,” she teased. “There is so much more that is coming… I have a feeling he will probably regret it for a thousand reasons, very soon.”
Union launched into detail about the multiple instances of workplace toxicity she said she experienced during her one season at AGT , including Simon Cowell’s indoor smoking. The actress explained she was just “trying to do her job,” when she was derailed “literally in the first hour when Simon Cowell walks in with a lit cigarette.”
“Have you ever been inside an enclosed building with someone smoking cigarettes?” Union asked Hill. “People who smoke, they go outside! It’s not a thing. I don’t care if you smoke outside… but I happen to have a strong allergic reaction to the chemicals that are omitted when you exhale cigarette smoke.”
Union said the allergic reaction is “immediate” and it manifest “the worse cold.”
“How do you say — not only does [Simon] own AGT , he is the executive producer and the lead judge — but I can’t do my job, my voice is already deep to begin with. When it’s impacted by the cigarette smoke, I literally can’t do my job. But I’ve gotta report the boss and report him to who? It’s like reporting police brutality! To who?” she declared.
Union said she understands how reporting incidents to Human Resources — which she did — can seem useless as the department is there “to protect powerful people.” But she said it comes in handy during a lawsuit.
“What it can do is create a paper trail, so in the case of suing someone — like I am now — you have this paper trail of every time something was reported to HR. It does help in the long run if you want to take legal action… but it just — every day it was something else,” she added. Union filed a discrimination complaint against NBCUniversal and the show’s producers, FremantleMedia and Cowell’s Syco.
Union brought up another example of something inappropriate she witnessed on set. During an audition, someone did “blackface hands,” despite producers knowing what the contestant intended to do ahead of time. She said she immediately hit her “X”, which means she didn’t want the contestant to advance.
“Finally the act is over and they’re like, ‘So Gab, tell us about why you hit the X?’ I’m like, ‘Nah, I’m good.’ Because the reason I can’t explain why blackface is wrong is because sitting next to me is Julianne Hough — who God bless her, she seems like a sweet person — who happened to do blackface for Halloween!” Union said, before calling out NBC’s hypocrisy when it comes to blackface.
“Mind you, this is in the same timeframe [NBC] just fired Megyn Kelly over her blackface statements. They hired, somehow, Julianne Hough who I guess they didn’t care about that did blackface. A lot of these people who had to approve all these blackface episodes are still around,” she continued, referring to NBC recently removing episodes of 30 Rock and Scrubs with blackface.
“So, those episodes of blackface ‘good,’ Megyn Kelly blackface ‘bad,’ Julianne Hough blackface ‘OK’ — so I hit the buzzer,” Union said. “I’m erring on the side of blackface is never good. But they want me to explain it and I was like — if I explain it, I’m going to remind everyone that my coworker did blackface and what do you want me to do here?”
Union said a white male producer allowed the contestant to audition despite a more senior female producer expressing concern over the contestant’s use of “blackface hands.”
“It was so much of that ,” Union noted.
Union also talked about the Jay Leno incident , when the former late night host made a joke about Cowell’s dogs looking like something you’d find at a Korean restaurant. According to Union, Cowell said he was also offended by the joke — “because you know how much I love dogs.”
“Watching how our president has talked about the ‘Kung-Fu virus’ and the demonization of Asian Americans — these jokes, these statements, they lead to actual terror, and death, and mayhem, and trauma for our fellow people of color. While I reported Jay Leno and I told the investigator about what Simon had said, the more it sat with me, as bad as Jay Leno’s racist a** joke was, Simon’s reaction is worse,” Union declared.
Union noted that AGT brought Leno back later in the season, saying she feels it’s clear the show “tolerates racism.”
“By the time we get to the investigation and they send Terry Crews out on his discredit me tour and you have the head of the network calling my agent and saying, ‘Gab better watch who she calls a racist’ in the middle of an open investigation about racism ,” Union shared. (In her lawsuit, Union claims NBC Entertainment chairman Paul Telegdy “threatened” her to keep quiet about “whistleblowing.” The network called the allegation “categorically untrue.”)
“This is what is happening at the top, to me,” Union added. “Someone with high visibility, large platform… this is what they are doing to me, openly, willingly, don’t give a s***. Imagine what they are doing to people who don’t have the money to fight them, who don’t have the reputation and a community to back them?”
Union added, “NBC was made aware — if they weren’t aware — they have been made aware that the head of their network did this and they still didn’t do anything.”
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