As the cover story for Adweek’s 2020 Women Trailblazers issue, Gabrielle Union talks about speaking up and how, although she may make more headlines these days, she’s “not actually new to this.” From suing Payless ShoeSource after a man who had robbed multiple stores also raped her at gunpoint when she was 19, to calling out NBC over the alleged racism she said created a toxic work environment behind the scenes of “America’s Got Talent,” the 47-year-old seems to have never had a problem using her voice. And she has some ideas about how others can start using theirs as well.
“For real change, it takes all of those people who’ve been standing around watching it happen, letting it happen, being responsible for it happening. You have to call it out in real time and not let it go,” she told the magazine. “And I think for most people, it’s terrifying—the idea of sacrificing your livelihood and how you feed your family. But if you’re in a position of privilege and you’re damn clear about that privilege and you do nothing, then you’re part of the problem.”
Though Union was criticized a couple of months ago for her remark about many Black celebrities being “one or two checks away from not having money to pay for all of our things” as a result of Covid-19, she knows she and Dwyane Wade are in a better position to speak out than most.
“It got to a point for me—it was like, how many checks do me and my husband need to have before I feel comfortable enough to stand up and say something? … When people ask, What does success look like? I’m like, ‘Freedom.’ Success looks like being able to exist and do a job that I love and pull as many talented people up who’ve never been given an opportunity.”
Union’s doing just that via her production company, I’ll Have Another, which is currently working on an adaption of George Johnson’s book All Boys Aren’t Blue. And in her own household, she’s also upholding that mission of free existence via her open support of transgender step-daughter Zaya, whom Union said gives her hope for the future.
“This girl lives her best life. And you know, you see things written online and it’s like, wow, there’s a lot of people who really want us to hate our child and to renege on our love and our support of her living her full and best and most authentic life. And we just won’t. We will never. And just watching her thrive and be so happy and live her best life. Like anytime I’m like, ugh, I just see Zaya turning cartwheels on the lawn. And I’m like, you know what? It’s not that bad. And to make sure that this girl is able to continue turning cartwheels, I’m going to continue to bust ass and keep fighting and keep speaking up and keep advocating for everything that I believe in, whether it’s projects or writers or my child.”