Gabrielle Union has filed a complaint against the producers of America’s Got Talent, the production arm of the show’s network, and creator Simon Cowell himself.
“When Gabrielle Union informed NBC of racially offensive conduct during the taping of America’s Got Talent, NBC did not ‘stand’ with her in ‘outrage at acts of racism,’” Union’s attorney Bryan Freedman said in a statement on June 4, according to journalist Yashar Ali and the Hollywood Reporter. “Instead, NBC did not care enough to either promptly investigate Ms. Union’s complaints or even ask HR to get involved. Rather, NBC stood against her and directed its ‘outrage’ at Ms. Union for whistleblowing about the racially offensive conduct she experienced while working for NBC on America’s Got Talent.”
Freedman continued, “In sharp contrast to NBC’s recent statement on race, what was truly an ‘outrage’ was the fact that Paul Telegdy, Chairman of NBC Entertainment, actually threatened Ms. Union in an attempt to silence her from telling the truth about racist actions that took place on the show. There is no place for this type of racial bullying in the workplace, and it is going to take more than a Tweet from NBC to demonstrate that NBC intends to create an environment free from racism.”
NBC Universal issued this statement to Glamour: “The allegation that anyone involved in this process threatened Ms. Union is categorically untrue. We took Ms. Union’s concerns seriously, and engaged an outside investigator who found an overarching culture of diversity on the show. NBCUniversal remains committed to creating an inclusive and supportive working environment where people of all backgrounds are treated with respect.”
Union left her hosting position on the competition show back in November 2019 following just one season. Fellow judge Julianne Hough was also denied a contract renewal. At the time, as reports surfaced that Union had reported a toxic culture and racist incidents on set, NBC and production company Fremantle released the following statement, according to Variety: “America’s Got Talent has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show. 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.”
On May 27, Union spoke to Variety about what she called the “toxic work environment.” She detailed one incident in which former Tonight Show host Jay Leno made a “joke” that a painting of Cowell and his dogs looked like something found on the menu at a Korean restaurant. The remark was later edited out. “My first big interview in this industry, the first person who allowed me to come on their talk show, was Jay Leno,” Union said. “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.”
In another incident, a white male performer put on black gloves to represent a black performer. Union told Variety that the fact this was not immediately halted was concerning. “I’m a part of a show that hired one of my co-workers who had an unfortunate incident doing blackface,” she said, referencing the time Hough was photographed at a Halloween party with darkened skin to imitate actor Uzo Aduba of Orange Is the New Black. “I’d like to trust her at her word that she learned her lesson, and has educated herself amid the consequences she faced and is hopefully a better person. But you would think that perhaps the show and NBC might be more conscientious in exposing that, and it would be taken seriously. I took it seriously.”
“At the end of all this,” Union said, “my goal is real change—and not just on this show but for the larger parent company. It starts from the top down. My goal is to create the happiest, most high-functioning, inclusive, protected and healthy example of a workplace.”
Glamour is reaching out to the other parties for comment.
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