Gabrielle Union is more than her PTSD. She is so much more than what happened to her. She knows this. And yet she continues to speak about her trauma openly and often. In every feature on Gabrielle Union, the words “sexual assault” are used. With every interview, she is taking the shame and stigma away from being a survivor. Gabrielle Union’s willingness to tackle subjects relating to women that have been taboo for too long is the thesis of her cover story in ELLE Canada.

…she normalizes things we have been taught to hide, topics that usually come wrapped in shame or secrecy for women: sexual assault, managing money, infertility—even having to buy Monistat at the drugstore. She is so frank and unguarded that it feels like a subversive act.

ELLE’s editor-in-chief, Vanessa Craft (also a black woman, shout out Vanessa!), sat down with Gabrielle in a hotel room in California for a fascinating chat that touches on all the above topics. It’s a great read in its entirety but the part that struck me the most is what Gabrielle Union says about bravery. Brave is a word that is used often to describe Gabrielle’s willingness to be so candid, again and again, even though she’s famous and powerful enough now to dictate what kind of questions she gets asked. Gabrielle Union can decide which way she wants an interview to go and she consistently chooses to speak on tough topics. To many, that is brave. To Gabrielle, it’s simply her “social responsibility” and she says that her fame and power are exactly why she can speak so freely. In her words, she has “nothing to lose.” 

“I know many women—or knew, I should say—who complained about a co-worker, a producer, a director, who actually dared to have a production adhere to the nudity contract that everyone freaking signed…they were deemed difficult, bad eggs. When I say I literally never heard from them again, it’s like they just fell off the face of the earth. I never heard from them again. Ever. It’s what our industry, and the country, the world, does with women who dare to buck the system and ask for accountability. This is where real bravery comes in. Who’s willing to stand up when you have everything to lose?”

Throughout the #MeToo movement, I have often thought about the nameless, faceless women who have been victims of a system that discarded them before they were able to become Mira Sorvinos or Ashley Judds, the names we recognise but had forgotten because their abusers sabotaged their careers. What happened to the women who didn’t land a career-making role first, who faced horrific behaviour from piece of sh-t men before they landed their big break? Gabrielle Union is asking us to remember those women and to stand up for them.

Gabrielle Union also talks about how she learned to stand up for herself in an anecdote that could be its own topic on Show Your Work. The story goes like this: Gabrielle Union had to negotiate a massive production deal and in the past, she used a “special voice” when discussing deals. Craft says the voice is the “tone women (in particular, women of colour) have to use to not sound aggressive during such moments. (You know the one—where you speak with the inflection of a question and raise your eyebrows so you look less threatening.)” Oh, I know the one. I’ve used this tone so often I barely turn it off. In this deal in particular, Gabrielle Union was too tired to use the tone. She used her “most authentic voice” and she got the deal she deserved, the one she was demanding. 

“I’m 45. I think I’ve been in this business 22 years using that dumb-ass voice that I thought was helping me, and I’m sure it did at certain times. But I wonder how my career could have been different if I had let that real voice out.” 

How often do men think about what voice they’re going to negotiate in? It took 45 years for Gabrielle Union to let go of the voice she thought she should use and use the one she always had. What a relatable story. What a great reminder for us all. Next time you’re in that boardroom or that meeting with the dude to loves the sound of his authentic voice, USE YOURS. 

Click here to read the full feature and for more photos of Gabrielle Union flawlessly rocking Ultra Violet, the Pantone Colour of the Year. This colour!