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Television

Gabrielle Union wasn’t fired from ‘America’s Got Talent’ for speaking up, says NBC

Gabrielle Union
Gabrielle Union was dropped as a celebrity judge on “America’s Got Talent” in November.
(Willy Sanjuan / Invision / Associated Press)

An external investigation into Gabrielle Union’s high-profile exit from “America’s Got Talent” found the actress’ concerns about the show’s workplace had “no bearing” on her dismissal, according to NBC.

A joint statement released Wednesday by the network and production companies Fremantle and Syco summarized the findings of the probe, which opened in December after former celebrity judge Union reported a racist and toxic environment on set.

“While the investigation has demonstrated an overall culture of diversity, it has also highlighted some areas in which reporting processes could be improved,” the statement read. “No one associated with the show made any insensitive or derogatory remarks about Ms. Union’s appearance, and ... 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.”

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A lot has transpired since NBC fired Gabrielle Union from “America’s Got Talent” after she alleged a toxic and racist culture on the show.

In November, the sudden departures of first-time judges Union and Julianne Hough immediately raised eyebrows, as their male colleagues were reported to return to the series. Variety later reported that Union had spoken up about multiple behind-the-scenes scenarios that made her uncomfortable during her time on the show.

Incidents reportedly included a racist joke allegedly made by comedian Jay Leno, an insensitive performance from a white contestant impersonating celebrities of color and production allegedly calling Union’s myriad hairstyles “too black” for viewers.

After meeting with Union in December, NBC launched an investigation, which involved “an outside investigator who conducted more than 30 interviews to review the issues raised” by the “Bring It On” alum.

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“We have a shared passion to make ‘America’s Got Talent’ a positive, inclusive and diverse show that is open to all individuals from any country or background,” read the network’s Wednesday statement. “We have heard from contestants and talent alike that their experience on ‘AGT’ has had a positive impact on their lives.”

From Gabrielle Union on “America’s Got Talent” to an ejected “Survivor” contestant, the #MeToo era demands accountability from TV networks.

Also published Wednesday was a Variety cover story in which Union discussed her specific experiences on “America’s Got Talent” — particularly the health issues she suffered as a result of executive producer and head judge Simon Cowell’s alleged smoking habit.

“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.

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“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.”

A spokesperson for Cowell told Variety that “when he was directly informed of the smoking complaint during the first couple of days of the season, he immediately changed his behavior and the issue was never raised again.”

The actress also commented on the quip from Leno, which allegedly compared Cowell’s dogs to menu items at a Korean restaurant, perpetuating harmful stereotypes about Asian people eating dog meat.

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“My first big interview in this industry, the first person who allowed me to come on their talk show, was Jay Leno. I’ve always held him in high regard, but I was not prepared for his joke,” Union said of Leno, who declined to comment for Variety’s piece. “I gasped. I froze. Other things had already happened, but at this point, it was so wildly racist.”

When Union filed a complaint to production, she was allegedly told, “We’ll delete it. We’ll edit it out.”

“You cannot edit out what we just experienced,” Union told Variety. “To experience this kind of racism at my job and there be nothing done about it, no discipline, no companywide email, no reminder of what is appropriate in the workplace?”


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