There are a lot of things to unpack in Gabrielle Union’s new interview with Harper’s Bazaar. It’s candid in a way that celebrity interviews rarely are but it’s the refreshing no bullsh-t take we’ve become accustomed to from Gabrielle, especially after her blunt and badass The Birth of a Nation press tour. This feature is no different. The first line of the piece, written beautifully by Rebecca Carroll, is “Gabrielle Union will let you know.” And she does. She lets us know how exhausting it is to be a black woman in Hollywood, her thoughts on “white girl privilege” and how she really feels about the so-called failure of The Birth of a Nation. Gabrielle seems the most upset by the fact that The Birth of a Nation’s box office letdown and its surrounding controversy overshadowed the performances of the film’s female cast, including her co-star Aja Naomi King.
“She so deserves people to see her performance. She's such a feminist. She's this young dynamo. This could have been her big break. This big job that gives her the accolades and attention that she deserves. It's like we all got thrown out. It's like the baby and the bathwater all went down the drain.”
In this analogy, is Nate Parker the baby? The women who worked on alleged rapist Nate Parker’s film were in an impossible position. Gabrielle Union wrote about how tough that position was and her experiences as a sexual assault survivor in an op-ed I praised for its brutal honesty. If Aja Naomi King’s performance did get lost in the controversy, that may be the one unfortunate part of the film’s disappointment. But Gabrielle Union doesn’t mention the mediocre reviews or the fact that the film as a whole may not have deserved the accolades and attention in the first place.
I mentioned Gabrielle Union’s powerful LA Times op-ed. She also did a number of interviews where she was very outspoken about being a sexual assault survivor. She tells Harper’s Bazaar that her goal for the press tour was to get her “biggest audience” to listen to her “talk about sexual assault, and the history of sexual assault being used as a weapon of mass destruction against black female bodies." She went on to say, “I need you to connect me to rape, because that's my reality.” Thanks in large part to Gabrielle Union, the Birth of a Nation press tour did become a conversation about sexual assault and consent. Connecting Nate Parker to his alleged rape and victim was the reality he had to face. Gabrielle may think that she didn’t have the control she wanted to talk about these issues but I think she’s underestimating the impact of her words during that press tour.
One of my favourite Gabrielle Union interviews was one she did with xoNecole.com in September where she revealed that she’s had “heated” and “awkward as f-ck” conversations with—as Harper’s Bazaar labels them—“white starlets.” She mentioned Lena Dunham, Amy Schumer and Kate Upton in that interview and she name checks all three again here but only confirms that she actually spoke with Dunham.
Union has already had one productive conversation with Dunham, she says, and to the other ladies, she has suggested one or more conversations in which she might "help to explain the oppressive systems that have benefited and allowed them to say these careless, insensitive and offensive things.”
When Lena Dunham appeared on The Breakfast Club, I wrote that it sounded like she’d had some conversations with people who made her realize her mistakes and own up to them. Based on Union’s admission, she may have been one of those people. If Gabrielle Union is singlehandedly reaching out to problematic white celebrities and explaining privilege to them she is a goddamn saint and I would like to send her a list of people she should visit next. After Amy Schumer. Justin Timberlake is at the top of that list.
The entire feature on Gabrielle is great and packed with a lot of relatable black girl self-esteem anecdotes that I basically could’ve written myself. I love her so much. If you have time, read the whole piece here.