NBC may have fired Gabrielle Union from “America’s Got Talent” but it certainly hasn’t silenced her — or the many supporters coming to her defense.
In the weeks since the network announced it would part ways with the actress, who served on the Season 14 judges panel for the long-running reality show, scathing reports have surfaced, detailing a toxic and racist backstage culture that Union allegedly endured — and reported — during production.
Instead of heeding her concerns, producers allegedly rejected them and retaliated by terminating Union’s contract. Now NBC is answering for its alleged actions, as SAG-AFTRA, Time’s Up and several outspoken celebrities continue to rally behind Union and demand justice.
Here’s a timeline of what went down, from Union’s termination to NBC’s public non-apology.
NBC fires Union
News of Union’s exit first broke Nov. 22, when Variety reported that NBC opted not to extend her and fellow celebrity judge Julianne Hough’s contracts for a second season. The women joined the competition program earlier this year, replacing longtime panelists Melanie Brown, of Spice Girls fame, and model Heidi Klum.
The decision immediately raised eyebrows, as Union and Hough’s male colleagues — executive producer Simon Cowell, comedian Howie Mandel and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” star Terry Crews — were reported to return, though the circumstances of the terminations of Union and Hough were still unclear.
New details emerge
Initial skepticism turned to outrage when a new report from Variety revealed ahead of the holiday weekend that Union’s split from “America’s Got Talent” wasn’t amicable but forced after the “Bring It On” alum allegedly reported toxic and racist behavior during production.
The most high-profile incident occurred when Jay Leno allegedly made a racist joke about Korean restaurants while taping a segment for the show, prompting Union — an outspoken advocate for minority communities — to file a complaint with producers, who allegedly dismissed her but excluded the joke from the final cut.
The network also reportedly discouraged Union from wearing a variety of hairstyles that it allegedly deemed “too black” for viewers, while Union expressed concerns that a white contestant overstepped while impersonating celebrities of color, such as Beyoncé.
“‘America’s Got Talent’ has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show,” NBC and series production company Fremantle said in a joint statement at the time the details emerged. “The judging and host lineup has been regularly refreshed over the years and that is one of the reasons for AGT’s enduring popularity. NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously.”
Dwyane Wade weighs in
NBA superstar Dwyane Wade was among the first to stand up for Union on social media following her exit, praising his wife’s for staying true to herself and questioning why “America’s Got Talent” would part ways with one of its most popular personalities.
“Over this past year I’ve been approached by many people saying that my wife [Union] is the main reason they’ve started watching #AGT or that they love her insight and sincerity on the show,” he said in a series of tweets.
“Men lie, Women lie, numbers don’t” Over this past year I’ve been approached by many people saying that my wife @itsgabrielleu is the main reason they’ve started watching #AGT or that they love her insight and sincerity on the show.— DWade (@DwyaneWade) November 27, 2019
So when i got the news that my wife was being fired—my first question was obviously why!? Iam still waiting on a good answer to that question. But if anyone knows @itsgabrielleu or have heard of her you know she’s an advocate for our community and culture.— DWade (@DwyaneWade) November 27, 2019
As proud as i were of her being selected as a judge on #AGT— Iam even more proud of her standing up for what she stands for and that’s US.— DWade (@DwyaneWade) November 27, 2019
More stars rally behind Union
Wade wasn’t the only celebrity to come to Union’s defense. Several stars, including Ellen Pompeo, Ariana Grande, Jameela Jamil and Patricia Arquette, slammed NBC for its alleged mistreatment of the “L.A.'s Finest” actress.
“This is terrible,” Arquette tweeted at Union. “You should not be penalized for trying to have a workplace that honors the rule of law in the workplace.”
Pompeo called out unhealthy culture at the network and in TV as a whole.
“It’s unfortunate that @nbc the same network that protected disgusting men like Matt Lauer and punished women for speaking out or not putting up with it ... has not changed their practices or culture,” the “Grey’s Anatomy” star wrote. “I support [Union’s] commitment to speaking up to injustice. It takes courage.”
It’s unfortunate that @nbc the same network that protected disgusting men like Matt Lauer and punished women for speaking out or not putting up with it...has not changed their practices or culture. I support @itsgabrielleu commitment to speaking up to injustice. It takes courage— Ellen Pompeo (@EllenPompeo) November 28, 2019
“Be better @nbc,” Grande added. “We’re with you [Union].”
Meanwhile, “The Good Place” star Jamil had a suggestion as to whom the platform should really oust.
“I am lucky to work with really good people at @nbc and am sad and angry to know this has been going on in that same network,” she tweeted. “I stand with [Union] all the way. They should bring her back, with a big raise, and remove @SimonCowell instead.”
I am lucky to work with really good people at @nbc and am sad and angry to know this has been going on in that same network. I stand with @itsgabrielleu all the way. They should bring her back, with a big raise, and remove @SimonCowell instead. 🤙 https://t.co/ZDsmurRUd4— Jameela Jamil 🌈 (@jameelajamil) November 28, 2019
More of Union’s famous supporters included Lin-Manuel Miranda, Yara Shahidi, Olivia Munn and Debra Messing.
Union speaks up
While Union hasn’t divulged any details about what happened, she took to Twitter shortly after to thank those speaking out on her behalf.
“So many tears, so much gratitude,” she tweeted just in time for Thanksgiving. “THANK YOU! Just when you feel lost, adrift, alone ... you got me up off the ground. Humbled and thankful, forever.”
So many tears, so much gratitude. THANK YOU! Just when you feel lost, adrift, alone... you got me up off the ground. Humbled and thankful, forever ❤— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) November 28, 2019
The avid social media user also extended her thanks to her Instagram followers, paired with a sweet family photo.
“Grateful,” she wrote. “Happy Thanksgiving good people. To all the friends and family that have my back and all the friends and family I’ve never met who show love and support when everyone is looking and when no one is looking ... All praise, gratitude and thankfulness.”
NBC issues another statement
Amid mounting pressure to make amends, NBC finally issued a statement Sunday specifically addressing its controversial decision to fire Union.
“We remain committed to ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees and take very seriously any questions about workplace culture,” the statement read. “We are working with Ms. Union through her representatives to hear more about her concerns, following which we will take whatever next steps may be appropriate.”
Hours after the network’s comments went public, Union returned to Twitter to share a post about what makes a “solid apology,” seeming to throw shade at NBC’s non-apology.
This! This! AND THIIISSSSSSS!!!!!! https://t.co/RCrtKtkQ4L— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) December 1, 2019
SAG-AFTRA announces investigation
The same day NBC released its statement, the Hollywood actors union SAG-AFTRA announced its own plans to investigate what went down behind the scenes of the reality series.
“We take issues of workplace health and safety very seriously,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement provided to The Times. “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.”
While the guild promised to continue to monitor the situation and “handle this issue accordingly,” it had “nothing to report now.”
Time’s Up launches petition
Advocacy group Time’s Up also has joined Team Union, releasing a statement and launching a petition calling on NBC to correct and own up to the “racist and inappropriate behavior” Union allegedly experienced during her brief “America’s Got Talent” stint.
“Gabrielle Union’s experience at ‘America’s Got Talent’ is exemplary of the double bind that black women face at work,” the Hollywood-led organization said in a statement provided to The Times. “Union’s story is deeply troubling on its own, but her experience is particularly problematic because it follows a pattern of NBCUniversal protecting the careers of powerful men at the expense of women who speak out.”
The petition, titled “Stand With Gabrielle Union and Demand Accountability From NBC,” urges network execs “to take Union’s allegations seriously and take concrete steps to foster a safe and equitable workplace.”
“Union’s experience shows that NBCUniversal still has a lot of work to do to change its culture so discrimination, harassment and retaliation are no longer tolerated at the company,” the Time’s Up statement said. “Building a culture of safety and equity requires continuous, intentional work sustained over a long period of time — even when a company isn’t in the throes of a crisis.”
Multiple celebrities responded to Time’s Up’s call, including “Charlie’s Angels” mastermind Elizabeth Banks, “Desperate Housewives” alum Eva Longoria, TV actress Amber Tamblyn and producer Shonda Rhimes. All pledged their allegiance to Union and shared the petition Monday to their combined millions of social media followers.
“Thank you [Gabrielle Union] for speaking up about a toxic culture at @NBC‘s #AmericasGotTalent,” Banks tweeted, along with a link to the sign-up. “It’s time for NBC to take these allegations seriously.”
Thank you @itsgabrielleu for speaking up about a toxic culture at @NBC's #AmericasGotTalent. It’s time for NBC to take these allegations seriously. Join me & @TIMESUPNOW in calling for accountability & concrete action https://t.co/sIiJRVqnsh— Elizabeth Banks (@ElizabethBanks) December 3, 2019
I’m with @itsgabrielleu. @NBCUniversal: Discrimination, harassment & retaliation have no place on #AmericasGotTalent or any workplace. I’m joining @TIMESUPNOW in calling on NBC’s leadership to take concrete and long-term action to fix its toxic culture.https://t.co/IBSQMBTHi8— shonda rhimes (@shondarhimes) December 2, 2019
Howard Stern comes for Cowell
Howard Stern, a former “America’s Got Talent” judge, did not mince words when addressing Union’s departure on his radio show Monday, hurling accusations at the show’s mastermind.
“How is it that Simon Cowell has orchestrated this?” Stern said. “He sets it up that the men stay, no matter how old they are, no matter how fat they are, no matter how ugly they are, no matter how talentless they are. But what he manages to do on all his shows is he constantly replaces the hot chicks with hotter chicks and younger chicks. Which is so obvious.”
Cowell, who also reportedly bothered Union with an alleged habit of smoking indoors, has so far remained silent on the scandal.
“Howie’s doing a fine, serviceable job — why don’t they change him? And why don’t they change Simon?” Stern mused. “This is the ultimate example of a boys’ club.”
NBC opens investigation
On Wednesday, NBC announced plans to launch a deeper investigation into “America’s Got Talent” after speaking with Union personally. According to a report by Variety, the two parties had a five-hour fact-finding meeting Tuesday, leading the network to pursue the matter further.
Union offered an update on Twitter Wednesday, reflecting on the conversation with a positive outlook.
“We had a lengthy 5-hour, and what I thought to be, productive meeting yesterday,” the actress wrote. “I was able to, again, express my unfiltered truth. I led with transparency and my desire and hope for real change.”
NBC provided a similar take on the session.
“The initial conversation was candid and productive,” an NBC spokesperson told Variety. “While there will be a further investigation to get a deeper understanding of the facts, we are working with Gabrielle to come to a positive resolution.”