Well, it’s Friday, who’s ready for a horrifying thought?
As bad as everyone acknowledges this year has been – last night I snickered at a “YearQuil” meme: ‘End 2020 Fast’, I realized that this may actually be a time we look back on with… okay, not happiness, but nostalgia; after all, as everyone waits with bated breath on the second wave of COVID and the results of the U.S. Election (because yes, Americans, they reverberate back on all of us) this may actually be the time before we know how bad it’s going to be…
Okay, I’m sorry. I want to fire myself for saying that out loud.
Of course, in celebrity culture, and in brands, the idea that we’re All In It Together gives ample opportunities for people we admire to assure us that they’re just people. I sound cynical, but I actually do think more celebs at home in sweatshirts talking to their laptops does change the ‘us and them’ dynamic, both in lessening the hero worship and in letting them talk about what they care about socially and politically. Actors have often been told to ‘shut up and sing’ or etc, as though they’re not part of society – life at home reminds us they’re people who have fancy jobs, but given that jobs are largely irrelevant right now, they’re people.
Which is why everyone’s new favourite parent, Gabrielle Union, was the boldface name in a virtual ‘citizen assembly’ with Verizon (hosted by Soledad O’Brien) focused on education and mental health, especially for kids. The session was kicked off by Yara Shahidi, who does her job very well, but who I still have to remind myself is only 20. I know her youth is kind of the point – she technically is one of the ‘kids’ in this situation, and was/is in school at Harvard between seasons of Grown-ish – but it still seems like a lot for her to have all this messaging on her shoulders. Like when she says things like, “To share the sentiment that iconic activist, author, and professor Dr. Angela Davis told me, ” I just felt… pressure. Such an obligation for her to have heard and synthesized what this brilliant mind told her – to have it all figured out – and it seems like a lot, even if she comes by it naturally. Just me?
By contrast, Union has mastered the art of seeming unscripted even when she’s clearly on-message, and her self-care tips have the air of authenticity: she complains about only having time for meditation on the toilet, and highlights Dear White People actress Logan Browning’s guided meditations which I most definitely wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
But when she talks about having two therapy sessions a week, and then plain as day utters the sentence, “I started UCLA very shortly after my rape, and when I was diagnosed with PTSD” – that’s when you realize the value of a celebrity spokesperson.
Union talking about her past traumas (the video includes a screenshot that references her infertility) isn’t news, but there are a lotttt of people, even experts, who will advocate for therapy or mental health care who seem to be talking it up because it’s ‘wonderful’ and ‘what everyone should do’. Union being up front about the issues she was dealing with that got her into therapy in the first place just adds an air of ‘this isn’t just for fancy celebrities’ that I appreciate. It’s not that I think everyone needs to baldly state each of their issues to prove their cred, but a lot of people who have her level of admiration still default to a level of ‘everything’s perfect’.
It’s also underlined when she talks about the particular barriers to entry in therapy when it comes to marginalized communities and particularly in Black communities – that there’s a stigma to overcome about therapy (which applies in many, many communities) but also a financial barrier. I think a lot of people may know this in theory, but don’t often hear it out loud. (Also, press releases made a point of noting that these conversations were recorded before the ruling on the Breonna Taylor case this week, where none of the three police officers were held in any way culpable for her death.)
Arguably most interesting though was the fairly boilerplate discussion of dealing with screen time, as Union pointed out that they discovered social media was causing moodiness and ‘numbness’ in their house, and specifies that was happening to both kids and adults, so they set limits and times when phones had to be off – but of course, their family and brand is built on social media!
In particular, daughter Zaya, who’s 13, gets a mention here – but I would have loved to hear more about the velvet handcuffs in this situation, relative to the Union-Wade family’s fortunes. They make money and build their brands on social media, but we know it’s toxic for us as a society (we all watched The Social Dilemma, right?), but it allows them to share advocacy and opinions, but it’s also obviously an avenue for their personal benefit…
All of that is way too narrow for what Verizon was trying to do here, but I would love a follow-up because I actually believe Gabrielle Union would come the closest to telling us the unvarnished truth, and I cannot overstate how refreshing that would feel right now.
Click on the Twitter link below to see the video in full.