‘America’s Got Talent’ treatment of Gabrielle Union prompts investigation


Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 12/2/2019, 10:20 a.m.
SAG-AFTRA has launched an investigation into the...

SAG-AFTRA has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding African American actress Gabrielle Union’s departure from “America’s Got Talent.” In a statement sent to Variety Sunday night, a spokesperson for the performers’ union said, “While we have taken steps to investigate this matter, we have nothing to report now.”

Last Tuesday, after Union was let go from the NBC competition series, the actress spoke to producers about the alleged workplace toxicity she endured and witnessed as a judge on the recent 14th season of the show. Earlier Sunday, NBC issued a statement saying that it is “working with Ms. Union through her representatives to hear more about her concerns.”

According to Variety‘s initial report, Union asked producers to speak with human resources about a joke told by guest judge Jay Leno that was offensive to people of Asian descent — a request that was, according to sources, not fulfilled. Union also, sources claimed, was repeatedly told that her hairstyles were “too Black” for the show’s audience.

A day after Variety's story broke, actress Patricia Arquette called on SAG-AFTRA on Twitter to look into the allegations, responding to a tweet by Union, writing, “I’m just catching up on this. This is terrible. You should not be penalized for trying to have a workplace that honors the rule of law in the workplace.” She added in a subsequent tweet, “Where is the union? HELLO??? @sagaftra.”

In its statement Sunday, SAG-AFTRA, through a spokesperson, wrote: “We take issues of workplace health and safety very seriously. We immediately reached out to Ms. Union’s representatives when these reports came to light. It is our practice to work closely with members who reach out to us and their representatives in instances like this, as that usually affords the best protection and best resolution for the affected member.

"For certain matters, our investigation and enforcement needs to happen independently and we are prepared to handle this issue accordingly, as warranted. Our enforcement action is usually handled confidentially to protect the member involved, and we typically do not publicize these matters unless the member requests that we do so. While we have taken steps to investigate this matter, we have nothing to report now.”

Former NBA star Dwyane Wade, who is married to union, defended his wife’s actions, saying that he has received many emails and social media comments that indicated they had begun watching AGT only after Union began as a judge. Wade told reporters: “So when I got the news that my wife was being fired, my first question was ‘Why?” I am still waiting on a good answer to that question. But if anyone knows my wife or have heard of her, you know she’s an advocate for our community and culture.”