Was Gabrielle Union’s Hair Really ‘Too Black’ For ‘America’s Got Talent’?

Gabrielle Union joined America’s Got Talent earlier this year, though she was suddenly fired in November to the surprise of many viewers. Her departure did not come without controversy, however.

It has, in fact, brought forth a lot of issues on the set of America’s Got Talent and even sparked many conversations about workplace ethics. One issue that Union allegedly dealt with as a judge was being told that her hair was “too black.” This might make a lot of fans wonder: Was Union really told this and, if so, how much of a role did that play in her leaving America’s Got Talent?

Gabrielle Union was fired for speaking out on the set of ‘America’s Got Talent’

Gabrielle Union attends "America's Got Talent" Season 14 Finale Red Carpet.
Gabrielle Union | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

Union’s departure was initially thought to be a rotation of judges on America’s Got Talent. However, Variety subsequently published an article with details from sources claiming that Union was actually fired for speaking out about various issues on set.

According to these insiders, Union had a history of speaking out about the “toxic culture” on America’s Got Talent. For example, she clashed with longtime judge Simon Cowell for complaining about his indoor smoking habits.

Smoking inside a workspace is prohibited under California law and Union herself is allergic to cigarette smoke. However, Union’s complaints were not successful. She reportedly was told that “no one could stop Cowell from smoking and that previous attempts by a fire marshal and NBC executives had been unsuccessful.”

The final straw for Union and America’s Got Talent came when guest judge Jay Leno made a racist remark that compared dogs in a painting owned by Cowell to something one would find “on the menu at a Korean restaurant.” Union allegedly tried to report Leno’s comment to human resources, but NBC did not take it seriously. One executive looked into it, though ultimately the case never reached human resources.

Gabrielle Union was reportedly told that her hair was ‘too black’

Union also suffered from discrimination against herself on the set of America’s Got Talent. Sources told Variety that she and fellow female judge, Julianne Hough, were subjected to a lot of criticism about their appearances. Union, specifically, was told on multiple occasions that her hairstyles were “too black” for America’s Got Talent‘s audience.

Four insiders confirmed to Variety that this was true, but the report said that “one network insider disputed the volume of notes, saying there was only feedback about hair continuity for both judges.”

At the end of the day, it’s not clear how often Union’s hair was criticized on America’s Got Talent, but the possibility that she faced some backlash for choosing to sport her natural hair should not come as a surprise to fans.

Other celebrities have shared their struggle with this form of discrimination

For decades, women of color have been told that their naturally curly hair is “unacceptable” and “unprofessional.” Some women are explicitly told to change their hairstyles while others receive the same message through microaggression. In the white-dominated American media, women are also told that beauty equates to straight or wavy hair, and the natural hair that many women of color have is often not celebrated.

These days, many celebrities are speaking up about this issue. For example, in 2015 Zendaya faced backlash for having dreadlocks at the Oscars.

She later took to social media to defend herself, writing: “There is already harsh criticism of African-American hair in society without the help of ignorant people who choose to judge others based on the curl of their hair. My wearing my hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.”

Gabrielle Union’s choice to show off her natural hair on America’s Got Talent was also celebrated by fans everywhere. Writer Celina Caesar-Chavannes wrote on Refinery29: “I watched the show with my daughter, and together we watched Union in her braids, other times with part of it up and the rest big and poofy. My daughter looked at Union the same way she looked at me. With pride.”