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Gabrielle Union speaks out about her departure from ‘toxic’ America’s Got Talent

Gabrielle Union on the red carpet
Gabrielle Union was a panel judge on America’s Got Talent but was axed after just one season. Pic credit: ©Imagecollect.com/ ImagePressAgency

Gabrielle Union has spoken in detail about her experiences on America’s Got Talent for the first time since she was controversially axed from the talent show last November.

Union was fired as a panel judge after just one season, amid reports that she had raised concerns over several incidences that happened off-camera, which had led to a toxic atmosphere of bullying on the show.

In an interview with Variety, the Bad Boys II actress spoke about how she raised concerns about the smoking habits of the show’s creator Simon Cowell. Union has been highly allergic to cigarette smoke her entire life but claims Cowell ignored her concerns.

Gabrielle Union encountered a toxic environment on day 1

She admitted that perhaps her decision to complain about Cowell on her first day in the job was ill-judged, “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.”

However, she couldn’t ignore the adverse effects Cowell’s smoke was having on her health, particularly when she developed bronchitis. While ill, she says she was made to feel like it was her fault she was sick.

“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 explained further: “It was challenging to tend to my illness without being made to feel like I’m responsible for my own sickness. It put me in a position from day one where I felt othered. I felt isolated. I felt singled out as being difficult when I’m asking for basic laws to be followed. I want to come to work and be healthy and safe and listened to.”

Gabrielle Union discussed Jay Leno racist comment

Union also spoke about Jay Leno’s infamous racist comment when he was a guest on the show. She said the former late-night chat show host, “made a crack about a painting of Cowell and his dogs, saying the animals looked like food items at a Korean restaurant.”

At the time Union says she, “gasped, I froze. Other things had already happened, but at this point, it was so wildly racist.”

She was told Leno’s comment would be edited out of the show, but she told Variety, “you cannot edit out what we just experienced. To experience this kind of racism at my job, and there be nothing done about it, no discipline, no company-wide email, no reminder of what is appropriate in the workplace?”

Union also slammed the show’s hair and make-up department by pointing out that “some contestants get the full Hollywood treatment, and then some are left to dangle.”

While this is the first time Union has directly spoken out about her time on the talent show, she is thought to have referenced the time last December when she gave career advice to black women for an event with the clothing company New York & Company.

At the event, she advised black women to boldly speak out and not to be afraid of challenging the status quo out of fear of losing their jobs.

Meanwhile, Simon Cowell has announced that he’s determined to finish the current series run of America’s Got Talent this year despite the coronavirus lockdown. In a recent interview, he said they had three options for completing the show.


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