On Monday it was announced that, just two months into her tenure as a judge on the show, Gabrielle Union would not be returning to NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” And though the network claimed the split was “amicable” — the term they used for the ousting was “rotated out” — media outlets painted a different picture.
Sources told Variety that Union received “excessive notes” on her physical appearance, and was subjected to over half a dozen complaints about her changing hairstyles. Some of the show’s crew also reportedly perceived her to be “difficult” — primarily, it appears, because she was openly critical of the workplace’s “toxic culture,” an environment that included a number of alleged racist incidents, among other things.
Though Union declined to comment on the matter, the network and series producer were quick to offer a joint statement, pointing at the show’s “long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed.”
This did not soothe the fire that is Twitter, where several users expressed their outrage over the whole matter, demonstrating their solidarity with Union by commiserating with her under the revived hashtag #BlackHairChallenge.
The #BlackHairChallenge started back in 2017, after Melanin Mamis — an online platform for women’s empowerment — encouraged people to share images of themselves wearing different hairstyles, to showcase and celebrate the versatility of black hair.
“Let’s make this a thing,” the account wrote in a tweet. “Upload pictures of yourself wearing four different hairstyles and tag #blackhairchallenge.”
Two years later, the hashtag has been resuscitated, with Black men and women alike posting photos of their hairstyles in support of Union.
Union — who started her own hair care line in 2017, after years of struggling to find Hollywood stylists who were equipped to work with Black hair — thanked fans on Twitter for their support with the hashtag.
“So many tears, so much gratitude. THANK YOU!” Union wrote. “Just when you feel lost, adrift, alone … you got me up off the ground. Humbled and thankful, forever.”
NBC maintained that Union was just switched out of the panel and not fired. “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,” they said in their joint statement. “NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously.”
The Variety report notes that the show’s social media presence doubled since Union and Julianne Hough — who was also let go — joined, generating 25 million social media impressions in total — half of which being direct engagements with Union according to Nielsen Social, which would make her, effectively, the most popular judge in the show’s history.