Gabrielle Union and the Beauty of Bridging the Gap

by Evette Dionne

Oprah's Next Chapter

Oprah Winfrey convened four beautiful black actresses for a special “Oprah’s Next Chapter” episode. Phylicia Rashad, Alfre Woodard, Viola Davis and Gabrielle Union conversed with Winfrey about the plight of black thespians in Hollywood. The ladies discussed all-things-discrimination, from overcoming “mean girls” syndrome to fighting for space to voice their opinions.

The conversation between the women was nuanced, complex and generational. There is an evident difference in the audiences engaging with Union compared to her seasoned peers, like Rashad and Woodard, but her presence at the table was essential to bridging the gap between millennials, generation Xers and our elders.

Some Twitter critics observed intense discomfort between Union and her colleagues. Their body language screamed irritation, while their words remained stoic and focused. This can be attributed to Union’s personal relationship choices or lack of professional accolades. Rashad, Woodard and Davis are much more accomplished than Union is, with Tony Awards and Academy Award nominations highlighting their extensive careers. Others insisted an actress of Union’s age – like Kerry Washington – was better-suited for the conversation since she’s had a progressive career with minimal setbacks.

However, what Union offers is a route to a larger sea – where women of varied generations discuss issues that plague us collectively. It extends past the solidarity needed to survive the movie business and into our personal relationships with female elders.

A disconnect exists between the mothers and daughters in communities of color. Mothers and daughters in the literal and figurative sense often exist without overlapping knowledge or experiences. It bubbles beneath the surface, never addressed until it explodes. Millennials converse with friends and peers about our issues, but don’t often bring these conflicts to our elders – afraid we’ll be shut down, shunned or told that we haven’t developed enough backbone to be considered mules of the world.

Cultural critic and writer Asia Brown refers to disconnect between elders and their off-spring as a “dysfunctional communicative relationship.” She attributes a longing for these conversations and the shunning that accompanies it to not understanding a shared path of patriarchy, racism and commodification. Brown writes:

We want our mothers to talk to us when it comes to the nitty-gritty. We need to be able to introduce foreign concepts to older Black women, without the prospect of being shunned or made to feel as if our perspectives are intolerable and non-negotiable.

Union is widening the canal for other conversations to stream through. Whether it’s sex, racism or simple dialogue about menstrual cramps, dialogues like those between Union and her peers, is essential for bridging the gap between millennials, generation Xers and our elders.

  • Nikki

    “This can be attributed to Union’s personal relationship choices or lack of professional accolades.”

    If the elders were showing visible irritation for those reasons, they’er just older examples of the mean girl that Gabrielle used to be. She just apparently realized it earlier than they have. Why would her relationship choices justify them showing irritation? Or lack of awards from institutions that don’t honor very many black actors at all? I agree with the total message of this post, but that line seems to be either some wild speculation as to the reason for their discomfort. It could have just as likely been that they don’t know her very well. Or that they knew as soon as she said it that it would become the biggest part of the story and not the rest of show.

    I think the author does a dissservice by placing what appear to be her personal feelings on Gabrielle’s relationship choices or lack of awards on everyone else.

  • JN

    I wish I had the opportunity to watch it. Unfortunately I do not have cable.

    I never thought about the disconnect as being from a generational standpoint.

  • kayla

    you can watch clips of it on the OWN channel on youtube

  • Deb

    hmm I’ve read so much about Gabby STILL being a mean girl even today…especially in Miami, dating Wade. I’ve also heard she can be a bit Unlikabe from different sources. It’s kind of odd that ALL THREE WOMEN would be cold towards her just because of her age or her acting resume.

    Their personal feelings towards her are individual anyway so it doesn’t matter to the conversation at hand.

    I read somewhere that while they were talking about colorism, Phylisha Rashad was dismissive of the other ladies’ negative experiences. I have not been able to watch it yet but did anyone catch this?

  • Travelynn Gyrl

    I don’t think the disconnect was generational at all. I’m younger than Gabrielle Union and I couldn’t relate to some of the things she said. I’ve never been a “mean girl” so to be negative and unsupportive of others is unfathomable to me. I don’t understand it because that’s not who I am as a person. Perhaps that’s how the other women felt. They couldn’t relate to that behavior, which has nothing to do with age and all to do with that individual’s personality.

  • mEE

    yes that happened. it was really interesting because I watched it after the Dark Girls documentary. Oprah mentioned the documentary and started asking Viola Davis about her experience with colorism (because she was in Dark Girls) and Phylicia Rashad had this kinda incredulous look on her face. so they had to explain to her that uh yes this does actually happen. Gabrielle Union started saying how it isn’t just in the industry and how it’s a big issue where people are having light skin vs. dark skin parties, etc. and Phylicia just completely cut her off and said something to the effect of, “I refuse the give energy to that”. and that effectively shut down the conversation.

    it was a pretty uncomfortable moment, particularly because I feel like the other three women weren’t able to fully discuss their experiences with colorism before she shut it down. and it’s like really Phylicia, this isn’t your issue to discuss. if you’re so oblivious to it that you were shocked colorism existed to the level it does then maybe it’s best not to say anything at all.
    …it’s was just a really weird and uncomfortable exchange

  • mEE

    I don’t think it had anything to do with it being generational. the whole situation seemed very inclusive and they weren’t treating her any differently until the whole mean girl thing came up. then maybe that’s where the “generational” aspect came in but truthfully it was more an issue of maturity. she seemed very immature next to them when she started going in depth with all her mean girl antics. and they expressed displeasure at that, the same way I did from my couch in my living room.
    I don’t think any of these women care about her relationship with D. Wade or the fact that she doesn’t have any awards. that was a totally random statement and I’m not sure where you got that indication.

  • Deb

    Wow, that’s pretty upsetting. They should have just ignored her and kept the conversation!

    What is with this idiotic notion that talking about certain negative experiences is the same as DWELLING on it. If these women were dwelling on them and were “giving energy” to them, THEY WOULD NOT BE WHERE THEY ARE TODAY.

  • cees

    OT, but is Alfre pregnant or is that just her dress?

  • binks

    This! I was doing my own famous Phylicia Rashad’s side eyes when Gabby was talking because I could not and did not relate to her at all. Honestly, she was just a sore thumb throughout the whole show and she just didn’t fit because she came from a very “me, me, me” perspective throughout the show and didn’t offer anything to be desired to the conversation to be honest. I related more to the women who could literally be my mother/grandmother more.

  • Smilez_920

    I think she kind of dismissed Gabriel because again Gabriel had cut on of the others ladies off and started talking about light skin vs dark skin club flyers. Maybe she should have focused on or mentioned an experience she recently had in the industry where skin color was an issue for her.

    Let’s be honest light skin women aren’t welcomed into the color conversation with open arms. Lot’s of times your talent becomes “well you only got the part because you were light” when in actually you might have been the best actress that tired out for it. Then all eyes go to you like your suppose to have an answer for why they choose you, like you were suppose to give up your role. I think Mrs. Rashaad has had the colorism conversation so much and probably gotten negative feedback for trying to give her opinion or answer, she simple just falls back.

  • geenababe

    I missed this interview because I was watching something else. However, seeing all these moments brought up on different sies makes me want to watch it the next time it comes on.

  • mEE

    Alfre Woodard is in her 60s. I doubt she’s pregnant

  • pyteena

    I think Gabrielle was out of place in terms of maturity and mentality, not accolades. In spite of what she thinks, Gabrielle has gotten a lot of work and publicity for someone who essentially plays the same character (the mean girl she admitted to being in real life) in everything and doesn’t have much of an acting range. I was really confused (and I think the women there were as well) about how she could be a “mean girl” considering how much Essence panders to her, puts her on covers, and gives her awards even when she’s not working. I think Kerry Washington would have been a better fit considering her attitude in most of her interviews and her body of work. Despite not having as many awards as the other women Kerry would have been better suited for the conversation. Gabrielle just seemed really self absorbed and petty throughout the show.

  • Bee

    I saw the interview and I was thinking the same things about Gabrielle. Interesting, I am sure others including Felicia Rashad felt the same way, did you see her facial expression? I, too longed for Kerry Washington, a very smart and intelligent woman who should have been with that group instead of Gaby. Gabrielle is what she said, a mean girl. Although, I appreciate her honesty in revealing her flaws.

  • Nadell

    Yes, my mother & I watched and felt the different energy Union brought to the table was not exactly in harmony with the other women. Not bad energy but ill-fitted energy in comparison to the other women.
    I think Oprah should’ve considered a part 2 of this discussion with actresses w/in Union’s demographic like Kerry Washington, Anika Noni Rose, Sanaa Lathan and Meagan Good. Davis, Rashaad & Woodard should’ve been with Angela Bassett, Debbie Morgan or Lynn Whitfield.
    I think Union opened the veterans’ eyes to what the opposition she and her class of peers are confronted with. From Rashaad’s reaction(s) it was evident she was stunned. I think Unions’ revelations blindsided Rashaad tremendously….she had much to say which made the others seem dazed.

  • Charlie

    “I think Gabrielle was out of place in terms of maturity and mentality, not accolades.”

    I totally agree with this.

  • ImJustSaying

    Union’s comments (though valid) seemed to hinge on “lookism” in Hollywood. She constantly spoke of size, hair type, skin color as possible barriers for actresses in HER lane (Kerry, Megan, Sanaa). Woodard, Rashaad, and even Davis are women who aren’t chosen for their looks as a first quality. Union was having a different conversation than the other women. Hers was indeed from a mean girl view of “how do I get chosen?” versus the others speaking on “how do WE ALL get chosen for HIGHER QUALITY roles”. Alfre Woodard at one point said the loving and guiding phrase ” Keep living, Daughter” in response to some point Union was making but Gabby (pun intended) didn’t even hear her and kept right on talking. They were having two different conversations and Union kept dragging it back to where she was comfortable. I hope they took her to the side and had a better heart to heart. Glad she’s not a full mean girl anymore but it was clear she hadn’t lost the trait totally.

  • tonia682


  • BoutDatLove

    ”and it’s like really Phylicia, this isn’t your issue to discuss.”

    And that is why i have a problem with the dark sin vs. light skin conversations. We are both black, yet we are divided because of shade. Apparently the only thing we have in common is that we are different shades of brown, but even that doesn’t seem to be enough. It’s like not being dark skin automatically means that you are a different race. smh.

  • Tina

    A little OT – Yowzers, Oprah has body for days!!! You go, girl.

  • Ash

    I thought the same thing. She looks great

  • DoR

    I was the biggest Gabrielle fan but after this interview, I am done. She seemed self involved, rude and superficial. I am going out on a limb here and saying she is probably still a mean girl. She is clearly consumed by it.

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