Staff Writer: Andi McCloud
Gabrielle Union’s termination from her job as judge on Season 15 of America’s Got Talent has sparked an investigation by the SAG-AFTRA performers union and the NBC network.
The investigation was opened Dec. 3 after a five-hour meeting with NBC network executives and Union to further “express my unfiltered truth,” Union said in a Twitter post after the meeting. “I led with transparency and my desire and hope for real change.”
Following the news of her firing from the show a little more than two weeks ago, multiple reports came out that Union had spoken out against the toxic environment of the show. The actress said she had been told her hair was “too black” for the audience of AGT. Although only serving as a judge for one season, her contract was ended early because she was “perceived as too difficult by [executive producer] Simon Cowell and his team.”
Fellow judge Julianne Hough also was fired after just one season as a judge on the show. Sources said Union and Hough received excessive notes on their physical appearance.
A Time’s Up petition was started in support of Union, and both women received immense support from NBC veterans who addressed the behind-the-scenes behavior on the show. One was former AGT judge Howard Stern, who accused Cowell of having double standards for male and female judges and called the show “the ultimate example of a boys’ club.”
NBC and the production companies behind AGT responded in a statement: “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.”
According to figures from Nielsen Social, Season 14 with Union generated 25 million social media impressions, approximately half of which engaged directly with Union, making her the most popular judge.
Hampton University senior Kayla Johnson shared her thoughts on the controversy.
“A lot of big networks, and large companies in general, hire people of color just to claim the label of diversity,” she said, “but when we call out racism, there is retaliation.”