Celebrities took to Twitter over the Thanksgiving holiday to support actress Gabrielle Union and slam NBC after the network dropped her as a judge on America’s Got Talent, reportedly after she raised concerns about racist incidents on set and after she was subjected to constant critiques about her appearance, including that her hairstyles were “too black” for the audience.
Stars from Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda to newscaster Jemele Hill, singer Ariana Grande, and 2020 presidential hopeful Julián Castro tweeted their support for the actress, who was labeled as “difficult” by fellow judge Simon Cowell after she complained about his indoor smoking habit, according to reports.
Later, Cowell dismissed a 10-year-old black contestant backed by Union, allegedly saying the young rapper was not an act “America can get behind.”
“Corporate America tells employees and consumers they take racism and sexism seriously. But often the person reporting the problem is hurt by management,” tweeted Castro on Wednesday. “Kudos to @itsgabrielleu for having the courage to speak out. Still waiting for answers from @nbc.”
Hill also pointed out that labeling black women as “difficult” in the workplace is an old racist trope. “So proud of @itsgabrielleu for standing for what is right when a lot of people would have just been silent to maintain their own position,” she wrote. “Also: How many black women are labeled ‘difficult’ for merely seeking respect and decency?”
Earlier this week, Variety and Vulture reported that Union—who had a three-year contract with NBC—was let go after only one year after she raised concerns about racist incidents on set with NBC executives. Among them: an anti-Asian joke allegedly made by comedian Jay Leno that was edited out of a final cut; a white contestant dressing up as Beyoncé and donning black gloves as part of his costume; and an alleged comment from judge Howie Mandel that a respected black South African choir should sing something from The Lion King.
Cowell and Mandel did not comment on the allegations, and sources close to NBC have claimed that Union was not fired, but merely “rotated out,” along with dancer Julianne Hough.
But Hollywooders aren’t buying NBC’s thin gruel. On Thursday, Ellen Pompeo, star of Grey’s Anatomy on ABC, flamed her rival network in an incensed series of tweets.
“It’s unfortunate that @nbc the same network that protected disgusting men like Matt Lauer and punished women for speaking out or not putting up with it... has not changed their practices or culture. I support @itsgabrielleu commitment to speaking up to injustice. It takes courage,” she tweeted, in reference to the network’s disgraced Today Show anchor, who allegedly serially sexually harassed his colleagues and stands accused of raping a fellow NBC journalist on a trip to the Sochi Olympics.
“This is a teaching moment,” Pompeo added. “It’s important..white girls I’m talking to you..whether you truly understand what racial injustice is or not..that you stand with your sisters on the front lines. Don’t cut side deals & don’t not get involved because it isn’t your issue..because it is.”
Union finally broke her silence over the firing on Thursday, posting a Thanksgiving message of her own to her supporters: “So many tears, so much gratitude. THANK YOU! Just when you feel lost, adrift, alone... you got me up off the ground. Humbled and thankful, forever.”
Meanwhile, NBC may have a problem on its hands as its own talent starts to speak out. Jameela Jamil, star of The Good Place, took a break from the holiday to tell her employer they should bring back Union and “rotate out” the male judges instead. “I am lucky to work with really good people at @nbc and am sad and angry to know this has been going on in that same network,” she tweeted.