A Few Minutes With . . .
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ACTRESS Gabrielle Union has created a solid Hollywood profile in movies such as Bring It On, Think Like A Man, Daddy’s Little Girls, Bad Boys II, Deliver Us from Eva, Two Can Play That Game and The Birth of a Nation. She took it a step further with her starring role in TV’s Being Mary Jane. And most recently the wife of NBA superstar Dwyane Wade has reached the New York Times Best Seller List with her book, We’re Going to Need More Wine, a collection of essays in which she talks about a number of subjects, including race, beauty, Hollywood, bullying and her miscarriages. At an Anderson’s Bookshop of Naperville book-signing presentation at the Hilton Lisle/Naperville, the outspoken advocate for victims of sexual assault had an extended conversation with author and podcast hostess Christa Desir that was followed by questions from the standing-room-only audience. The following is a collection of the actress’ answers to a variety of questions, including being a rape survivor, speaking up for victims of sexual assault, raising black boys in this social climate, trying to be accepted by her white neighbors, the importance of therapy and the cancellation of Being Mary Jane.
On dealing with the sexual backlash when women are sexually honest.
Gabrielle Union: I’m living my best life. I’ll be 45 in a couple of days (October 29) . . . and I’m good. I invested well. I have vision, dental [health insurance] and I’m good. What I notice is I have to share my complete truth because so many people are being strangled by repression. So I’d rather be the sacrificial [person] than somebody else. My insurance covers my therapist; I have a support system who loves that I talk about sexual freedom, sexual equality. So if I’m not going to do it, who’s talking to these young women about the idea that you don’t have to be a disposable mouth. So when they ask you to be the disposable mouth, ask them to [reciprocate]. Live your best life, whatever that is. It’s about zero judgment. Because, guess what, as you’re sitting up judging what someone else is doing in the privacy of their own home, is your credit rating improving? Is your mortgage going down? Do your student loans magically get paid off? No, you’re just home sexually repressed while someone else is living their best life.
On oversharing personal information.
Gabrielle Union: People are so quick to judge. Someone on Twitter today said I was oversharing [personal information]. But what we say about all Harvey Weinstein accusers is that they didn’t share enough or soon enough. So which is it––sharing too much or not enough? We either believe you or we don’t believe you. We chuckle with our boys about girls, but we don’t have the same chuckle with our daughters about [sex]. OK? We don’t have the same conversations.
On being a rape survivor and managing the role of an advocate for sexual assault victims.
Gabrielle Union: I’m still figuring this out. I’ve been talking about being sexually assaulted for 20 years, and I vowed to continue talking about it until I stop hearing “me too.” This past July was 25 years since I was raped, and for whatever reason it always seems that people forget that I was raped. So every time I talk about it I hear “What?!” When I tell my story, I hear “Me too,” “Me too.” And as you collect all of the “Me toos,” in the bathroom, in the airport, at Magic Mountain, you try to do your best in the moment to let someone feel not alone. You try to offer as much advice as you can and try to listen. But on this book tour, when night after night I’m in packed rooms like this, and whether in question and answer session, they’re disclosing to me, or getting a book signed they are disclosing to me, it can get overwhelming. It’s crazy that people feel much more comfortable telling a stranger than their love ones. Whatever the reason, the energy created in this room feels like a safe place for a lot of people. It doesn’t exist in their homes, their communities, their schools, their jobs, social circles. So I take that responsibility and go back to my hotel room and cry, and I recognize that these aren’t my tears. I’m releasing so much pain that I’m encountering. There are so many people across the country who are suffering in silence. They are waiting for help, waiting to be seen, waiting to be heard, waiting to be believed. Nobody asks to be raped. It can happen to anyone at any time and anywhere. You cannot price your way out of sexual violence. I was raped by a stranger at gunpoint at my job. I was wearing a tunic and leggings, and a female friend still asked what the hell I had on. Rape culture is pervasive in our global community. Everyone in here gets to make a commitment to call it out as you see it. Don't wait for the appropriate moment! There isn’t ever going to be an appropriate moment to have honest conversations about sexual violence and sexual harassment. That’s the whole thing about being assimilated. Assimilation is a very quick path to being invisible, complacent and thus complicit. To me, it feels like there’s a cultural shift happening, and I worry that the Weinstein scandal will be just the tip of the iceberg and not fully exposing the iceberg that brought down the Titanic. It seems more and more we are chipping away and they are calling it out and no longer are waiting for someone else to take action. We are taking action, we are consoling each other as a global community. People are being held accountable little by little and every time there is a scandal we think is this a moment or a movement? It’s time to be a movement. Are you going to be a part of it or a part of the problem?
On the importance of getting therapy.
Gabrielle Union: There is zero shame in therapy. I wish someone would come up to me and tell me that I’ve said too much or I’m oversharing or I’m airing dirty laundry or whatever. This book is therapy, and I would not have been able to write the book without having been in therapy for the last 25 years. I’m not floating through life. I didn’t get to this space of being able to speak candidly and openly and honestly about some of the darkest, most terrible things that happened in my life. But there’s a lot of stuff I did not share because I wasn’t ready. So whatever that’s in the book is what I have healed from or have talked at length about for year with my therapist. I still, a lot of times after these Q&A’s, I Skype with my therapist because I’m on the road and I need help. I need a release. I need guidance. I have a spiritual advisor as well. Whatever path you need to take to get to healing is the right one. And if anyone has anything to say about you getting the help you need, address those people in the exact same disrespectful manner they are addressing you when you talk about getting the help that you need. Say to them in no uncertain terms, “I’m helping myself; I wish you would because obviously you haven’t sought help if you think getting therapy is somehow negative.” Therapy is the most beautiful, freeing experience, and you may not find the perfect match the first or second time, but keep trying. There is online therapy; Skype therapy; there are therapists out there who will offer no-cost and low-cost therapy if there are financial constrictions or constraints. But don’t put it off, and don’t be afraid.
On what it’s like raising black boys in this world, even if they are privileged?
Gabrielle Union: I think it’s almost worse that they are privileged because they want to be able to act and behave like their white friends. They want to be able to challenge discipline as unfair and unjust. They want to be able to walk the dog without me having to tell them the proper way of walking the dog so it doesn’t look like you’re concealing something in your hand. I'm in Miami after Travon Martin with two tall teenage boys whose hoodie is just a part of their uniform in a place people refer to as “Wade County.” But if our boys aren’t physically next to us and easily identified as Dwyane Wade’s kids, they are just [N-words] in the street, and they are treated accordingly. So with us living in a certain area actually makes them bigger targets. They are black bodies in traditionally white spaces. And when you live in a open-carry state and stand-your-ground state like Florida, your neighbors [can be] your worst nightmares. All they have to say is “I felt threatened.” Our boys aren’t armed; they’re just black. But you know people can get away with killing your children and all they have to say is “I felt threatened” and can get away with it. So what do you tell your kids when they leave the house? And these are privileged boys. They are used to “the world is my oyster.” So I have to drop these black bombs on them daily. If you go to a sleepover, you stay put. No wandering around the house. You stay where the parents are. If something comes up missing, who do you think they think took it? They know what your father makes, but it’s just . . . Don’t ever be alone in a room with a white girl. I don’t care that she’s been your friend since fourth grade. This all sucks, it sucks, and it’s terrifying. I have to tell them that everything isn’t for them.
On an incident with white neighbors and trying to make them feel comfortable with her.
Gabrielle Union: There’s a chapter in the book called “Mittens” about navigating my Gold Coast neighborhood. I was on my way to the gym down State Street and I happened upon a couple of my neighbors on the sidewalk and [in a singing voice] I said, “Excuse me, ladies,” and as I’m walking away I hear “something, something thug.” So the next day as I’m about to leave for the gym, I [remembered] I had been sent a pair of gloves and a pair of mittens. And I’m literally thinking how can I make my neighbors more comfortable. I chose the mittens because I thought thugs don’t wear mittens. That’s the kind of dance we [black people] do to make people feel more comfortable. To try to minimize our blackness. How do you adjust the tone? How do I carry my body. My roommate at UCLA used to wear his backpack at all times [apparently to make himself less threatening to people]. You start to go through these mental gymnastics.
On the possibility of cancelled TV show Being Mary Jane coming back.
Gabrielle Union: I love Mary Jane. She’s my favorite character of all those I’ve ever done. I love her. Usually when a show gets cancelled, it’s just cancelled and you have no idea how the storylines end and what happens, but luckily BET has enough respect for the audience that we are going out the way we came in and that’s with a two-hour movie. So you will see what happens with Mary Jane and Justin. You’ll see if she got pregnant through artificial insemination. You’ll see what happens with Niecy. You’ll see if Kara and Orlando get together. You will see what happens with the love triangle. Just know that he whole cast, the crew, everyone is in mourning. We love that show.
Gabrielle Union, interviewed by author Christa Desir, talked about many aspects of her life.
Union greeted supporters at the book-signing for popular book, We're Going to Need More Wine.
Gabrielle Union’s New York Times Best Seller We’re Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated, and True is available at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, Downers Grove and La Grange. It’s also available at www.andersonsbookshop.com.