Gabrielle Union Would Love To Get Privileged Hollywood White Women Together To Discuss The Oppressive Systems They Benefit From
A fire has been lit in Gabrielle Union and we have to say we are more than willing to follow where the flame takes her. Following up on her op-ed in the LA Times discussing Nate Parker’s rape allegation, Union, who stars in Parker’s The Birth of a Nation, had a conversation with XoNecole in which she discussed how that essay came to be, her advice on rebuilding your self-worth after sexual assault, and what she’s willing and ready to do to incite change in Hollywood.
Check out the highlights:
XONecole: When you published your op-ed addressing Nate Parker’s personal controversy, Colin Kaepernick and several other athletes were being criticized in the media and lost endorsements for speaking out against social injustices. Was there any worry that if your op-ed came across as in defense of Nate Parker that it would hurt your brand?
Everyone on my team was in sync about me doing an op-ed, in fact, they wished it had come out sooner. It took me a long time to craft what I wanted to say and it still be helpful. My first few drafts were not as educational, so I consulted a group of my close friends who are active feminists. I also spoke with several male friends, as well as my husband, and everyone had very different opinions. In talking to numerous people, most of whom are parents, I realized everyone had a different idea about what consent was. So if, as educated adults, we differ on what consent is, imagine what our young people are faced with. Through the op-ed, I wanted to make sure I was very clear that no matter where you stand on the issue of Nate Parker, moving forward, let us all come together and be affirmative what verbal consent truly means. I thought framing the piece like that was more helpful and more constructive.
In terms of going to the Toronto Film Festival and facing the press, there was concern about my brand and the other projects I have coming up. Being Mary Jane is written by a black woman, for black women, and women in general relate to the character so you don’t want to alienate anyone. Some people have said, ‘If you’re a feminist, you should boycott the film.’ And I was like, ‘But wait, my role in the film and the reason I signed on was to talk about sexual violence.’ So it feels ass backwards to shirk that responsibility when the controversy swirling around our film is around sexual violence so who better to speak on it than me?
And if I take myself out of the conversation because it’s uncomfortable and because I’m worried about my brand, then my brand ain’t sh-t if I don’t stand up for what I’ve always stood up for since I became a rape survivor.
What is your advice to young women who are attempting to repair their self-worth and self-esteem after going through a traumatic experience like rape or sexual assault?
Firstly, you have to forgive yourself for doubting yourself and doubting your memory because so much of it is internalizing it all and feeling guilt and shame for something we have zero control over. Many of the people closest to us will say, ‘That’s what you get for being fast,’ or ‘What did you do? What were you wearing? What did you say?’ Because in a lot of our families, identifying evil that looks like us, that we’ve invited into our homes, is incredibly difficult, painful and can leave you feeling very powerless. It can be difficult to acknowledge that it happened which can lead to repressed memories which makes the path to recovery so much more difficult.
Forgive yourself for acting like a human and having to experience that excruciating pain. Forgive yourself if your family support isn’t the same as someone else’s.
I strongly encourage therapy. I’ve heard from many people, ‘I can’t afford a therapist.’ There’s free group therapy and other free and low-cost options available through your local rape crisis center as well as through hospitals. Money or a lack of resources should not be a hurdle to your healing. Regardless of your race, religion, gender, the help you need to move forward exists.
You have to become your own best advocate to overcome the hurdles that might be in your path. Sometimes the people that are holding us back are the people closest to us. Sometimes your mom, dad, best friend or boyfriend isn’t supportive. Maybe they’re blaming you or questioning your truth and sometimes the only way to get around that is to distance yourself emotionally because a lot of us may not have the luxury of putting a physical distance between the people that doubt you, but you can develop the skills that allow you to have emotional distance when you can’t have physical distance.
After being a part of such a powerful film, do you think your The Birth Of A Nation co-stars are more cognizant of white privilege? What types of conversations are you having with your colleagues about using this film to really incite change?
In terms of our cast specifically, the way my scenes were shot I didn’t have the same downtime in between filming to have those conversations with my co-stars. I didn’t get to really know them while we were shooting but from what I gathered they [Armie Hammer, Penelope Ann Miller, Jackie Earle Haley] are definitely aware of what white privilege is. Now how aware they are of their own privilege, I don’t know because that comes with consistent behavior modification. We will see on their next film if they’re still talking about the necessity of addressing oppression and racial inequality.
I have, however, had conversations with people that are on my team, the cast and crew that I work with, friends from high school, etc., and it’s been very fascinating to see that so many people are so resistant to the idea of oppression in America. They think you can just pull yourself up by the bootstraps and work hard enough to achieve the American Dream. People will say, ‘My parents came from another country and didn’t speak English,’ but even so you still get the privilege of whiteness. Most of the people that I know have never truly had to function on a level playing field. They’ll say, ‘We all went to school together and worked our ass off to find jobs,’ and it’s like no, you come from a family that went to the same Ivy League college for generations so you didn’t have to have the same grades as a person of color to get in; you were accepted into this university based on being a legacy but no one ever looked at it as a leg up or affirmative action. Then after graduation, you got to work for your father’s firm where everyone looks like you.
[During The Birth Of A Nation press conference] I was challenging the journalists in the room to evaluate their social circles. What day-to-day work are you doing to recognize your privilege then actively dismantle it? The next step is figuring out what you’re willing to do that may not benefit you but will benefit mankind. Most people are savvy enough to say the right things but when it comes to hiring someone that looks like them because it makes them feel more comfortable, that’s an example of the big and the little things that go into dismantling the system of oppression that people who benefit from it aren’t interested in tearing down. The reason why most people aren’t willing to go the extra mile to really have equality is because it won’t benefit them. Most people are self-serving, which is human nature so you have to fight back against that.
In order to begin to see change start to occur, we have to be willing to have conversations with people who have different opinions than us. I’ve already talked to Lena Dunham; I would love to talk to Kate Upton and Amy Schumer. Maybe I can help to explain the oppressive systems that have benefited and allowed them to say these careless, insensitive and offensive things. Those conversations are awkward as f-ck and they get heated. Similar to watching people have conversations about consent.
For those people who don’t want to support Nate Parker, who don’t want to see “another slave movie” or for other races that think this is just a “black film,” why are you so passionate about people seeing The Birth Of A Nation? What’s so important about the film that people have to see it?
My mother took me aside in high school to teach me the story of Nat Turner because she saw that I had completely assimilated into white culture. When she was around, she would hear adversity come up and she saw that I would never speak up, I was always the one that didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself, I just wanted to fit in. So when I was 14, she took me to the library so I could research Nat Turner and I learned that what he did was a different type of resistance than Rosa Parker or Martin Luther King, Jr.
My mom saw that I wasn’t being a leader; I was being complacent so understanding black liberation and black resistance in the face of adversity and the face of oppression was so desperately needed at that time in my life. To stand up and lead, makes you a target and I thought that being black was big enough target so I didn’t want anyone to notice me but my mother said, ‘That’s not the woman I’m raising. I didn’t raise you to be silent.’
Nat Turner was a tangible American hero that I could look up to that dared to fight back and push back. There are a lot of us that need to see it’s okay to stand up and do what’s right no matter the cost. Our country is built on resistance but we can’t just acknowledge the resistance from British rule; we have to also acknowledge the slaves’ resistance of oppression.
If you’ve ever been a position where you didn’t feel strong enough to fight back and do the right thing, this film is for you. If you have an issue that you stand behind that you feel like doesn’t get enough coverage or resources and you want to stand up and feel inspired to fight for whatever cause you believe in, this film is for you. And if you feel like there have been too many slavery movies…there have been too many slavery movies where we’re not our own saviors. Instead, we’re waiting for the same white people who oppressed us to save us.
This is not ‘another slave movie.’ This film is about black liberation, our humanity, our hope and our love and I haven’t seen these topics portrayed in a film to this degree. There’s never been a film like The Birth Of A Nation.
But I understand those who may have an issue with Nate’s past and if you don’t like the way Nate is handling the present, I absolutely understand if you chose to sit the film out. I respect it because I would be a hypocrite if I said I hadn’t chosen not to see films that made me uncomfortable for one reason or another, but my hope for those that choose not to see the film is that you’re leading the movement from another direction and the conversation doesn’t die because you decide to sit the film out.
I hope that if you choose not to see the film, you’re still having conversations about black liberation, black resistance, racial inequality. This is still a part of our reality and we need to be a part of the solution and the healing so we stop hearing, ‘That happened to me too.’ I just don’t want anyone else to tell me, ‘Me too.’
I’m going to continue to live at that intersection because my womanness and my blackness are intrinsically linked. I hope that the film will inspire you to take the spirit of action, resistance and personal liberation and apply it to your own lives.
Check out the full interview on XoNecole.com.