Gabrielle Union Says Simon Cowell’s Smoking Gave Her Bronchitis On The Set Of “America’s Got Talent”
Last fall Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough were fired as judges on NBC’s America’s Got Talent. It soon came out that Gabrielle’s forced exit may have been related to her “difficult” (sigh) habit of calling out on-set racism and sexism. By December, AGT was being investigated by SAG-AFTRA, and NBC was in full damage control mode, claiming they were working with Gabrielle’s people to “hear more about her concerns”.
Gabrielle has tweeted a little about these reports, including responding to AGT host Terry Crews’ sycophant “huh? NBC isn’t racist” comments. But she hasn’t given a full account of her experience. Not until an interview with Variety, where she got into it. Gabrielle says she realized something was rotten in the state of AGT from Day One, when fellow judge/executive producer Simon Cowell casually smoked indoors. Not just a violation of public health laws, but dangerous, because Gabrielle is highly allergic!
It was when the newly minted judge stood on a closed soundstage and was enveloped in a cloud of cigarette smoke, to which she’s been severely allergic her entire life. Producers, fellow judges and set assistants looked on unfazed as series creator and star Simon Cowell finished his smoke while Union’s respiratory system went haywire.
Gabrielle says since she turned 40, she’s learned self-acceptance and is over sexist and racist bullshit. So she decided to “hesitantly” complain about Simon’s smoking, since she was literally being “met with the very definition of a toxic work environment” by “the most powerful person on the production.”
But when Gabrielle addressed the matter with producers, they told her that, even though she wasn’t the first to complain about Simon’s smoking, nothing was going to change.
“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 says.
She also says her constant runny nose “rattled” fellow judge, Howie Mandel, who famously struggles with OCD and germophobia (Howie declined to comment). Gabrielle felt “othered” and “isolated” immediately, all because she was asking for “basic laws to be followed”.
Union confronted a question she’s faced many times over her career, particularly as a woman of color: “Do I cave? I didn’t feel like myself; I’m shape-shifting to make myself more palatable. I’m contorting myself into something I don’t recognize. 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.”
Simon’s spokeperson claims he appreciates and respects feedback, and, after he was informed of the complaint he “immediately changed his behavior and the issue was never raised again”. However, the ongoing investigation hasn’t concluded that his indoor smoking totally stopped.
Gabrielle went on to confirm reports of guest judge Jay Leno’s racist “joke” about Koreans eating dogs, and production ignoring it, saying “We’ll delete it. We’ll edit it out.” She was pissed, saying:
“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?”
Gabrielle wouldn’t address reports about getting notes that her hair was “too black” (since the investigation is ongoing), but she did confirm that nothing was done when a contestant put on black gloves while doing an impression of a black performer. Although production flagged him as “problematic” ahead of time, they still let him perform in front of 4,000 people. Gabrielle found this especially disturbing, since her fellow fired judge, Julianne Hough, has a history of dumbass Halloween blackface:
“I’d like to trust her at her word that she learned her lesson, and has educated herself amid the consequences she faced and is hopefully a better person. But you would think that perhaps the show and NBC might be more conscientious in exposing that, and it would be taken seriously. I took it seriously,” she says. Hough did not respond to a request for comment.
Basically Gabrielle was shocked that there was no procedure to deal with any of these issues. She was also upset that the show didn’t have a policy of using contestants’ preferred pronouns. Gabrielle’s step-daughter with Dwyane Wade is transgender.
NBC, Simon Cowell’s company Syco, and Fremantle released a statement in response to Gabrielle’s Variety interview, saying they:
“immediately engaged an outside investigator who conducted more than 30 interviews 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.”
Variety then added:
Details of these new processes were not immediately available.
Ha! Get ’em, Variety!
This is not NBC’s week, especially after their golden boy, Jimmy Fallon, was called out for his history of SNL blackface. What to do, what to do? Get with the times and do a complete overhaul of their standards and practices? Or deny, deny, deny, ft. some bullshit “new processes”? Hmmm, I wonder which one it’ll be…