Gabrielle Union
Gabrielle Union
(Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Gabrielle Union Describes Racist Experiences on Set at 'America's Got Talent'

In a new interview, Union speaks on numerous incidents that took place before her dismissal from the popular series.

Five months ago, Gabrielle Union spoke out about her treatment on the set of NBC’s popular series America’s Got Talent. Now, Union is addressing more of the toxic experiences which took place during her first season on the show.

Last September, Union, and judge Julianne Hough were dismissed from the show. Previous reports expressed Union was dismissed for speaking out about racism and other isolated incidents. Following Gabrielle’s exit from the show, Variety released a report exposing the culture at AGT throughout her time there which was filled with “racially charged incidents.” These moments happened on behalf of producers, contestants, and a guest judge Jay Leno. 

In a new Variety feature, the powerhouse actress expresses her issues with the series began on her first day. She walked on set and Cowell was smoking which appeared to be completely normal to production and her fellow judges. But since she was severely allergic, her body began to react negatively. From that moment forward she shared she started to raise issues about the “physical and emotional toxicity” at AGT.

When Union spoke to producers about Cowell’s smoking, she said they acknowledged her complaints, yet they told her other complaints had been made and that nothing was set to change. “I couldn’t escape. I ended up staying sick for two months straight. It was a cold that lingered, and turned into bronchitis, because I couldn’t shake it. It impacted my voice, which affects my ability to do my job,” she said. “It put me in a position from day one where I felt othered. I felt isolated.”

Previously sources told Variety Union’s different hairstyles were called “too black” for mass audiences by the show’s production. She didn’t address the specifics behind this due to the ongoing investigation. Gabrielle did however share the show didn’t give “equal attention” to all contestants in the hair and makeup chair.

Another incident that included Jay Leno shocked Union. While he filmed a commercial in the AGT offices, she shared the former Tonight Show host made a joke about a painting of Cowell and his dogs. He said the animals looked like food at a Korean restaurant. To Union this was deemed racist commentary. 

“I’ve always held him in high regard, but I was not prepared for his joke, she said. “I gasped. I froze. Other things had already happened, but at this point, it was so wildly racist.” Following this, she waited to see if there was a protocol for an incident of this nature, there wasn’t. Production claimed they’d delete the scene, which was a common reaction from them. 

On why she's speaking about these incidents now Gabrielle shared, “At the end of all this, my goal is real change — and not just on this show but for the larger parent company. It starts from the top down,” she said.

An internal investigation of production companies FremantleMedia, Cowell’s Syco Entertainment in addition to NBC is ongoing. Head to Variety to read the entire feature. 

Today, Fremantle, Syco and NBC released the following statement on the results from their investigation surrounding Union's firing from AGT:

"Through the investigation process, it has been revealed that no one associated with the show made any insensitive or derogatory remarks about Ms. Union’s appearance, and that neither race nor gender was a contributing factor in the advancement or elimination of contestants at any time. The investigation has shown that the concerns raised by Ms. Union had no bearing on the decision not to exercise the option on her contract."

This article was originally published on May 27, it was updated the same day. 

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