Gabrielle Union has been in the entertainment industry for more than two decades – but that doesn’t come without some challenges, the multi-hyphenate businesswoman shared at the American Black Film Festival.
The actress opened up about her toughest moments in Hollywood during Sunday’s “Minding Her Business” panel discussion at the virtual 2020 film festival, revealing her exit from “America’s Got Talent” as one of her most difficult business dealings to date.
“Probably the ‘AGT’ of it all was so surprising and so heartbreaking and so frustrating and so unnecessary. That would be probably the hardest part (of my time in the industry),” she said during the discussion, moderated by Raymone Jackson, national diversity officer at Morgan Stanley.
Union, 47, has been vocal about her experiences at the NBC reality competition, including her accusations of a toxic, racist environment on the show’s set, following her and fellow judge Julianne Hough’s exits last year after one season.
Union said other difficult aspects of the “AGT” situation were “it feeling like such a public flogging and just standing in my truth and standing on the side of employee rights and knowing there’s a better way of doing business.
“But that whole process was really brutal and knowing that I brought my team into that, it just sucked,” she said.
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Union said through her production company and other business collaborations, she wants to provide a space that fills a void in the industry “where I feel like the voices of marginalized folks have not been traditionally centered or amplified.”
The “L.A.’s Finest” star cautioned against jumping too quickly at an opportunity before doing your due diligence.
“We face a lot of rejection in this business,” she said. “Anytime someone says yes to us you get so excited, because we don’t hear yes that often, and sometimes those yeses are masking a host of trouble and problematic behavior. … Perhaps you don’t want to be someone’s racial guinea pig.”
She noted the importance of being a part of Black-owned businesses in her career, signaling her Flawless by Gabrielle Union hair care line as a prime example of researching potential business partners and collaborators before signing on the dotted line.
Her line was relaunched in 2020 after debuting in 2017.
“I was more of the face of (it). I had a very small piece of ownership of Flawless back in 2017,” Union said. “Immediately I realized this was probably not going to work out the way I wanted it to. I knew immediately that my company needed to be Black-owned and not just Black-fronted … and I needed to center our voices and our needs.”
She continued: “Not all money is good money. I’ve learned the hard way with that. … Launching a hair care line that is Black-owned is a night and day experience than when we initially launched,” she said, citing the attention to detail in the products’ ingredients and the makeup of the team behind the scenes as integral differences.
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Though the conversation was filmed before Sunday, Union’s panel aired on the day Kobe Bryant would have turned 42, months after the basketball great died in a January helicopter crash, and she mentioned his death as the start of an unprecedented year of tragedy: “It has been an insane year, starting with the death of Kobe Bryant and really thinking – and we probably shouldn’t have – ‘this can’t get any worse.’ And we had no idea what the world was in store for.”
ABFF will run through Aug. 30 and is streaming more than 90 films celebrating Black cinema, as well as panel discussions featuring Kenya Barris, Oscar-winning filmmaker Barry Jenkins, “Candyman” director Nia DaCosta, Mary J. Blige and Lena Waithe.