Actor and author Gabrielle Union doesn’t know what Black Hollywood is going to look like when the world settles into the new reality brought on by COVID-19, but she does know that it will look a lot like community support. Especially for the entertainment industry’s gig workers.
“None of us know how we’re going to come out of this, right, and what Hollywood is going to look like,” Union said during an Instagram Live conversation Wednesday with HuffPost. She noted that many scenes require actors to be very close on set. “You see people’s deals being announced every day, but none of us have any clue about when they’re going to open up Hollywood.”
Union’s show “L.A.’s Finest,” which started out as an NBC pilot before Spectrum premiered it on its streaming service in 2019, was just announced as a part of Fox’s fall prime-time lineup. As unprecedented as the move is, she’s grateful not only for herself but also for those with jobs on the show.
Union evoked the spirit of the late Andre Harrell, the Uptown Records founder and hip-hop pioneer who died May 7 at age 59, as an example of someone who always helped bridge the gap in Hollywood. She recalled meeting him at a club on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles when she was 23.
“We were at one of those tables and most of the guys who were coming up were trying to talk to my friends, and this guy kind of leans over to our table and he said, ‘I hope you know, you’re going to be a star,’” she recalled. It was Harrell. She hadn’t appeared in many projects, and she said she doubted Harrell had seen “Saved by the Bell: The New Class.”
“I was like, he’s going to ask me about my friends or he’s going to be a creep or whatever, and that’s all he said and walked away,” Union told HuffPost. “I’d run into him years later and he said, ‘Remember what I told you?’ And I didn’t think he would remember me. I thought it was a line, and I said, ‘OK, I didn’t think you were going to remember.’ In that crowd especially, I was never seen, no one ever thought of me as anything, and you said that and I really haven’t forgotten it.”
Harrell and Union went on to become good friends. And though Harrell didn’t get into TV and film until a bit later in his career, she said he was constantly sharing information to help others.
“He always hipped me to game,” the actor said. “How you negotiate contracts, how you bridge those communities, how you put people on, how it’s OK to decenter yourself in a narrative and still consider it success, and for the world to be without people like Dre. We have to pass that baton and give that information enthusiastically.”
That’s especially significant for those in Hollywood who aren’t big-name stars, including backstage workers like hairstylists and makeup artists.
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“When I talk about Black Hollywood, I’m not just talking about actors that you’ve heard of or the famous producers or directors. The Black Hollywood that is the nuts and bolts of Black Hollywood are people who you may never know their names but they’re really as vital and important and we can’t forget their stories and their plights and even if you had a steady gig,” she said. “To have no work indefinitely, and you don’t even have the hope for a job, and it was already hard to begin with for us.”
“I hope one of the things people take out of this [pandemic] is that success can look different,” she said. “It can be a redistribution of wealth, opportunities, resources. You can share resources and information; it doesn’t take anything away from you.”
Union also talked about her new children’s book, released May 5, that was inspired by her toddler daughter, Kaavia James Union Wade, “Welcome to the Party.” Union, who’s been open about her miscarriages and attempted IVF cycles with her husband, former NBA star Dwyane Wade, said that “Welcome to the Party” is meant to be a celebration of blended and nontraditional families.
“A lot of time, especially in marginalized families, our family ties and our bonds and even creating our family isn’t always one way. It could be a family friend down the street that just lives with you now and there’s no legal paperwork, there’s nothing,” she said. “We were able to have Kaav through our awesome surrogate. But just creating a space to welcome the introduction of a new family member, and after so much heartbreak, I wanted a celebration.”
Watch the full conversation on Black Voices’ Instagram.
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