As a result of a wide-ranging Variety cover story on Gabrielle Union and her firing from America’s Got Talent, the results of NBC’s probe into the allegations of racist and sexist behavior at America’s Got Talent have been released. The results reveal that while Union’s specific claims of bad behavior, such as Union’s allegation of being told her hairstyles were “too Black,” could not be definitively proven, the investigation did find areas where the show’s production could improve.
“No one associated with the show made any insensitive or derogatory remarks about Ms. Union’s appearance, and that neither race nor gender was a contributing factor in the advancement or elimination of contestants at any time,” said the show’s producers in a statement to Variety for the magazine’s cover story on Union. NBC, and production companies Fremantle and Syco also told Variety that over 30 interviews were conducted by an “outside investigator…to review the issues raised by Ms. Union.”
“While the investigation has demonstrated an overall culture of diversity, it has also highlighted some areas in which reporting processes could be improved,” state the companies.
Union and Julianne Hough were let go from the show as a judge in 2019, and afterward, Variety released a report detailing several of Union’s complaints to the production team, which included her offense at a racist joke Jay Leno made about Asians while on set, racial incidents made by contestants, sexist critiques about the female judges’ hair and bodies, and Simon Cowell’s smoking, which caused Union to be sick while filming.
Fremantle also discussed its second probe regarding American Gods. Orlando Jones, who played the African god Anansi, accused the show’s production team of mistreatment, leading to his firing after the second season.
Fremantle said through a spokesperson that they “look forward to doing the same [investigation] for American Gods if and when requested to do so.”
Union told Variety that at the root of her saga with America’s Got Talent is to change Hollywood culture.
“At the end of all this, my goal is real change–and not just on this show but for the larger parent company. It starts from the top down,” she said. “My goal is to create the happiest, most high-functioning, inclusive, protected and healthy example of a workplace.”
“There are so many people who are committed to making NBCUniversal and Comcast different, who truly want to be a part of the solution and on the right side of history,” she said, adding that NBC isn’t the only place in the industry that needs to change. “In the same breath, there are some people who want the wheels of change to come to a grinding halt because they feel that their privilege is being challenged.”
Something that was revealed in the initial reports of Union’s dismissal included that she spoke up about Cowell’s smoking on the set on her first day of the show, which she describes as “coming onto a set and 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.”
She told Variety that he addressed it with producers but it was clear that nothing would happen. “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,” she said. Union further explained that her illness upset Mandel, who has spoken on numerous occasions about his obsessive-compulsive disorder and germophobia. Union sat next to Mandel on the panel. “It was challenging to tend to my illness without being made to feel like I’m responsible for my own sickness. It put me in a position from day one where I felt othered. I felt isolated. I felt singled out as being difficult, when I’m asking for basic laws to be followed. I want to come to work and be healthy and safe and listened to,” she added.
In the interview, Union also talked about when she spoke about a racist remark made my Jay Leno and the show not having a policy of using contestant’s preferred pronouns. Leno reportedly attempted to make a joke about a painting of Cowell and his dogs, saying that they looked like food items at a Korean restaurant.
“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. I gasped. I froze. Other things had already happened, but at this point, it was so wildly racist,” she said. Union added that there was no protocol for something like this, and like she heard several times during her stint, they would just edit the remark out. “You cannot edit out what we just experienced. There is not an edit button in my brain or in my soul. 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?” she said.
Variety reports that some changes to America’s Got Talent‘s production have already been made, according to a source. Such changes include the addition of sensitivity training and ways to more effectively alert human resources to issues. Supposedly those changes have already gone into effect during the new season of the series, which is now airing.
If this is true, then Union’s probe has already had a positive effect, despite the investigation’s lack of resolve regarding Union’s personal claims.
“If I can’t speak out with the privilege that I have, and the benefits that my husband and I have, what is the point of making it?” she said.“What is the point of having a seat at the table and protecting your privilege when you’re not doing s**t to help other people? It’s absolutely terrifying to speak truth to power about anything. I’m not trying to be terrified, and some days are better than others.”