How Gabrielle Union’s Firing From ‘America’s Got Talent’ Became A Hollywood Cause

Gabrielle Union at the ″America's Got Talent″ Season 14 Kickoff in March.

Gabrielle Union at the “America's Got Talent” Season 14 kickoff in March.

Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

Topline: Fallout continued Monday over Gabrielle Union’s firing from America’s Got Talent, which—not least because of its racial and gender undertones—prompted an outcry from both celebrities and the actor’s union SAG-AFTRA, forcing NBC to issue a statement promising “to hear more about her concerns.”

  • Multiple outlets reported on November 23 that contracts for Union and fellow judge Julianne Hough were not renewed; Union’s only comment on the ensuing scandal came Wednesday on Twitter, when she wrote that she was “humbled and thankful, forever.”
  • Union was reportedly told some of the hairstyles she wore for tapings were “too black,” and an alleged offensive joke made by guest and comedian Jay Leno about Korean food led Union to ask the show’s producers to report the incident to NBC’s human resources department. 
  • According to Vulture, Union was labeled as difficult on-set after asking fellow judge Simon Cowell to not smoke indoors, as well as speaking up about incidents she perceived to be racist. 
  • Celebrities Ellen Pompeo, Debra Messing, Ariana Grande, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Patricia Arquette, Olivia Munn and Jameela Jamil took to Twitter to publicly defend and support Union, along with Union’s husband, Dwyane Wade, and activist organization Time’s Up. 
  • SAG-AFTRA, the actor’s union, issued a statement late Sunday night that said Union’s departure was being investigated and that they take workplace health and safety issues “very seriously,” but “we have nothing to report now.”
  • NBC released a statement Sunday, saying, “NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously,” having previously explained the casting decision as a desire to keep “refreshing” the judging panel—though the three male judges, Howie Mandel, Terry Crews and Simon Cowell, all are returning to their roles for the show’s fifteenthth season.

What to watch for: Who takes Union’s and Hough’s seats at the America’s Got Talent judge’s table. Those replacements have not yet been announced.

Key background: This is not the first time NBC⁠—or America’s Got Talent⁠—has been accused of having toxic workplace environments. Former judge Nick Cannon left the show in 2017 over fallout from a racial joke he made in a Showtime special. And as Pompeo mentioned, NBC became embroiled in the Matt Lauer scandal that same year, following his dismissal from the Today show. That scandal was detailed in Catch And Kill by former NBC reporter Ronan Farrow, who also alleged in that book that NBC effectively quashed the blockbuster investigation he eventually published in The New Yorker

Chief critics: Ellen Pompeo penned a Twitter thread that not only showed support for Union, but decried NBC for being “the same network that protected disgusting men like Matt Lauer.” It was retweeted by Debra Messing, one of the stars of NBC’s Will & Grace revival, who called the situation “disgusting behavior from a network that has been my professional home for decades.”










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Topline: Fallout continued Monday over Gabrielle Union’s firing from America’s Got Talent, which—not least because of its racial and gender undertones—prompted an outcry from both celebrities and the actor’s union SAG-AFTRA, forcing NBC to issue a statement promising “to hear more about her concerns.”

  • Multiple outlets reported on November 23 that contracts for Union and fellow judge Julianne Hough were not renewed; Union’s only comment on the ensuing scandal came Wednesday on Twitter, when she wrote that she was “humbled and thankful, forever.”
  • Union was reportedly told some of the hairstyles she wore for tapings were “too black,” and an alleged offensive joke made by guest and comedian Jay Leno about Korean food led Union to ask the show’s producers to report the incident to NBC’s human resources department. 
  • According to Vulture, Union was labeled as difficult on-set after asking fellow judge Simon Cowell to not smoke indoors, as well as speaking up about incidents she perceived to be racist. 
  • Celebrities Ellen Pompeo, Debra Messing, Ariana Grande, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Patricia Arquette, Olivia Munn and Jameela Jamil took to Twitter to publicly defend and support Union, along with Union’s husband, Dwyane Wade, and activist organization Time’s Up. 
  • SAG-AFTRA, the actor’s union, issued a statement late Sunday night that said Union’s departure was being investigated and that they take workplace health and safety issues “very seriously,” but “we have nothing to report now.”
  • NBC released a statement Sunday, saying, “NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously,” having previously explained the casting decision as a desire to keep “refreshing” the judging panel—though the three male judges, Howie Mandel, Terry Crews and Simon Cowell, all are returning to their roles for the show’s fifteenthth season.

What to watch for: Who takes Union’s and Hough’s seats at the America’s Got Talent judge’s table. Those replacements have not yet been announced.

Key background: This is not the first time NBC⁠—or America’s Got Talent⁠—has been accused of having toxic workplace environments. Former judge Nick Cannon left the show in 2017 over fallout from a racial joke he made in a Showtime special. And as Pompeo mentioned, NBC became embroiled in the Matt Lauer scandal that same year, following his dismissal from the Today show. That scandal was detailed in Catch And Kill by former NBC reporter Ronan Farrow, who also alleged in that book that NBC effectively quashed the blockbuster investigation he eventually published in The New Yorker

Chief critics: Ellen Pompeo penned a Twitter thread that not only showed support for Union, but decried NBC for being “the same network that protected disgusting men like Matt Lauer.” It was retweeted by Debra Messing, one of the stars of NBC’s Will & Grace revival, who called the situation “disgusting behavior from a network that has been my professional home for decades.”










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I'm a New York-based journalist covering breaking news at Forbes. I hold a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Previous bylines: G

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