Gabrielle Union is speaking at length about her experiences on the set of “America’s Got Talent”.
Union famously parted ways with the show over allegations of racism in production. The story blew up, leading to an investigation from parent network NBC and involving fellow “AGT” personalities like Terry Crews.
Union told Variety about guest judge Jay Leno’s alleged racist joke while filming a promo for the show.
“The first person who allowed me to come on their talk show was Jay Leno,” Union prefaced. “I’ve always held him in high regard, but I was not prepared for his joke. I gasped. I froze. Other things had already happened, but at this point, it was so wildly racist.”
“’We’ll delete it. We’ll edit it out,’” production told Union. “You cannot edit out what we just experienced. There is not an edit button in my brain or in my soul. To experience this kind of racism at my job and there be nothing done about it, no discipline…” Union replied.
Another big point of contention was boss Simon Cowell’s alleged smoking on set.
“Coming onto a set and you are literally met with the very definition of a toxic work environment and it’s being carried out by the most powerful person on the production,” Union said.
“I couldn’t escape. I ended up staying sick for two months straight,” she expressed. “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.”
Union tried to stand up for herself but was allegedly made to feel like she was the one at fault. Considering Cowell’s “constructive” criticism, Union had expected Cowell to take feedback better.
“I never thought of [Simon Cowell] as a shrinking violet,” she said. “I thought he dished out very direct criticism and commentary over the years. So I felt very comfortable giving direct feedback about the things that I thought needed changing and addressing.”
Crews and Union engaged in some back-and-forth after Crews countered Union’s experiences on set, seemingly minimizing Union’s story.
Union told Variety she was “disappointed” by Crews’ response but maintains she will always defend him.
“At the end of all this, my goal is real change — and not just on this show but for the larger parent company,” Union said of speaking out. “It starts from the top down. My goal is to create the happiest, most high-functioning, inclusive, protected, and healthy example of a workplace.”
A formal investigation from NBC and “AGT” producers found no wrongdoing on the set.
“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 statement said, per Deadline.
“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,” the statement continued. “While the investigation has demonstrated an overall culture of diversity, it has also highlighted some areas in which reporting processes could be improved.”