Gabrielle Union is speaking out and using her voice, and experience, to inspire other women facing obstacles in their careers.
The actress appeared at a panel discussion on female empowerment and inclusivity at the launch of her holiday collection with New York & Company, and she shared some powerful words while alluding to her own termination from America's Got Talent and her subsequent public feud with the show's producers and network executives.
"Don’t be the happy negro that does the bidding of the status quo because you’re afraid," Union said, while addressing questions of how to be a leader in the workplace,Variety reports. "Don’t allow them to call you angry when someone else is called passionate."
"It's terrifying. There’s a solid chance you’ll lose your job… I speak from experience," added Union, who carefully refrained from directly referring to America's Got Talent by name.
During the panel -- held at Ladurée in Manhattan, where she was joined by Hannah Bronfman, Solange Franklin, Maddy Jones and Ebonee Davis -- Union delivered an impassioned plea for women in corporate America to use their voice and maintain resolve in the face of unscrupulous and unethical behavior, and to "do your best to try to hold the door open and hold people responsible."
Union admitted that what she was encouraging people to do was next to "impossible" for most people, but that they should do the impossible.
"I’m fully aware that job loss is on the table," she explained. "But if you’re not doing it, nobody is."
"There are a lot of people who are only interested in filling their own plate,” Union added. "I can’t enjoy my food if everyone else is starving."
The actress went on to explain how much stress and pressure she's felt in life -- often in positions in which she was one of the only people of color in a given situation or production meeting -- when it comes to speaking up against things she feels are wrong.
"Eventually, I couldn’t sleep. I obsessed about every single time in my life where I didn’t say anything," Union shared. "It got to the point where I was like, 'That’s not right!' And every time I chose to speak up and the world didn’t end and I could speak a little bit better, I knew I was doing the right thing. It just made it so much easier."
Among the incidents in question were an alleged racially insensitive joke made by guest judge Jay Leno, a contestant whose quick-changing act reportedly included the use of dark makeup on his hands to portray Beyoncé, and allegedly numerous comments from network executives about Union's hairstyles being "too black."
NBC and Fremantle, the production company behind AGT, responded to the reports and allegations, telling ET in a statement: "America’s Got Talent has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show. The judging and host line-up has been regularly refreshed over the years and that is one of the reasons for AGT’s enduring popularity. NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously."
As a result of Variety's report, SAG-AFTRA announced that they're launching an investigation into the matter. In response, NBC, Fremantle and Syco retained outside counsel to assist them in learning more about the facts of the matter, and Union revealed that she had "a lengthy five-hour, and what I thought to be, productive meeting" with execs.
Check out the video below for more on the on-going legal drama.