Actress Gabrielle Union, who is in the middle of a scandal revolving around the NBC series “America’s Got Talent,” offered workplace advice Monday as part of a panel on female empowerment telling audience members: “Don’t be the happy Negro that does the bidding of the status quo because you’re afraid.”
Union was fired from the reality series last month for prompting producers of the show to report an incident involving a racist joke by former “Tonight” show host Jay Leno. The episode aired Aug. 6 edited without the joke, but Union pushed for human resources to be alerted.
At the event Union spoke at, which also served as the launch for her new holiday wardrobe for the clothier New York & Company, she told those in attendance: “Don’t allow them to call you angry when someone else is called passionate. It’s terrifying. There’s a solid chance you’ll lose your job … I speak from experience.”
She did not mention “America’s Got Talent” by name, but Union said she felt “fear and terror” over speaking up.
The headlines that surrounded her termination, which included charges that producers told her on multiple occasions that her hairstyles for the program were "too black," prompted a meeting between NBC and Union. Following the sit-down, a representative for NBC told The Hollywood Reporter: "The initial conversation was candid and productive. 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."
In addition to NBC’s investigation, the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television and Radio Artists said the union was also looking into the situation.
Variety reports that executive producer Simon Cowell, who is also a judge, has retained legal counsel
For his part, Leno told TMZ: “I love Gabrielle Union, she’s a great girl. I really enjoyed working with her, she’s really good.”
Fellow actresses like Ellen Pompeo of “Grey’s Anatomy” have tweeted support for Union, which has also come from expected and unexpected places.
On the expected side, Union’s husband, former NBA star Dwyane Wade wrote, “'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."
On the unexpected side, Sirius/XM radio host Howard Stern, a former “America’s Got Talent” judge, said on his morning show: "He sets it up that the men stay no matter how ugly [the men] are, no matter how old they are, no matter how fat they are, no matter how talentless they are," Stern said of Cowell selecting the judges panel. “He replaces the hot chicks with hotter chicks and younger chicks. ... Howie’s [Mandel] doing a fine, serviceable job. Why don’t they change him? And why don’t they change Simon? … This is the ultimate example of a boys’ club."
Meanwhile, the show is slated to return on Jan. 6 with Cowell, model Heidi Klum, comic Howie Mandel and Alesha Dixon, who served as a judge on “Britain’s Got Talent.”
"America’s Got Talent" was created by Cowell and is co-produced by Fremantle and Syco Entertainment. In addition to Cowell, Jason Raff, Sam Donnelly, Trish Kinane and Richard Wallace are the executive producers.