The Real Reason Gabrielle Union Left America's Got Talent

Gabrielle Union made a name for herself as Isis in Bring It On, starring opposite Kirsten Dunst, in 2000. From there, the actress wrote a book, got married to basketball star Dwayne Wade, and welcomed their daughter, Kaavia, via surrogate in 2018.

As for her acting career? Well, it took off in a major way. Union scored the leading role in Becoming Mary Jane from 2013 to 2019, in addition to starring in L.A.'s Finest with Jessica Alba in 2019. According to Variety, Union recently sold multiple feature pitches to Universal Pictures and Netflix.

Union even joined America's Got Talent in February 2019, and was excited about her next endeavor. "I signed up for the experience of being a part of the show that hails itself as the biggest stage in the world," she told Variety. "Super diverse, and one about giving people an opportunity to shine where they otherwise probably couldn't. What could go wrong?"

However, things didn't exactly go as planned, as Union exited the show after one season. Variety later reported on AGT's alleged toxic culture in November 2019, and Union opened up to the outlet about her difficult time as a judge in a May 2020 interview.

Gabrielle Union allegedly dealt with racism on set

Gabrielle Union revealed she "didn't feel like" herself on the set of America's Got Talent in 2019. "I had to look at myself and say, 'Do you want to keep it easy? Or do you want to be you, and stand up?' Because I'm not the only one being poisoned at work," she told Variety in May 2020. 

It all started when Union heard an offensive joke from guest star Jay Leno, with the comedian quipping that a painting of Simon Cowell's dogs looked like food items at a Korean restaurant. The Nebraska native, who was stunned by the comment, recalled, "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."

Although Union wanted to confront Leno, she didn't. Instead, production told her they would "delete" and "edit" the comment, but as Union aptly noted, "You cannot edit what we just experienced."

She added, "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?"

The Leno incident wasn't the only issue, as she noted to Variety, but it sticks out in her mind as it was so blatantly inappropriate. 

Gabrielle Union felt 'isolated' by other judges

To make matters worse, Gabrielle Union had a hard time being around some of the judges, specifically Simon Cowell and Howie Mandel. On her first day at America's Got Talent, Union complained about Cowell's smoking habits since she is severely allergic, Variety reported. However, nothing changed, and Union revealed she "ended up staying sick for two months straight."

She continued, "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."

Additionally, Union's runny nose made Mandel — who is a well-known germaphobe — uncomfortable. "It was challenging to tend to my illness without being made to feel like I'm responsible for my own sickness," she stated. "It put me in a position from day one where I felt bothered. I felt isolated."

Union felt "singled out as being difficult" when she wasn't asking for that much. Ultimately, the actress wanted to "be healthy and safe and listened to" while she was at work.

Gabrielle Union wants 'real change' in the industry

Gabrielle Union is hopeful that the entertainment industry will evolve following the drama on America's Got Talent, which she left in November 2019. "At the end of all this, my goal is real change — and not just on this show but for the larger parent company," she divulged to Variety. "It starts from the top down."

Union admitted "it's absolutely terrifying to speak truth to power about anything," but acknowledged it was the right thing to do in this case. "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?"

The star notes "it's scary to stick your neck out," but in the end, she believes it was all worth it.