Over the weekend I was reading the New York newspapers and came across this in the New York Daily News. Ordinarily I skip over celebrity news, but it was the look on Gabrielle Union’s face that stopped me enough to read the caption. After that, I picked up other outlets running similar stories, like Purdue Exponent: “Gabrielle Union has thanked her fans for their ‘love and support’ after she was axed from the America’s Got Talent judging panel. The Bring It On star recently admitted to feeling ‘lost and alone’ following her departure, which was allegedly brought on after she…raised issues about racist jokes and comments about her physical appearance.” The story made me reflect on how hard it is to be a famous working actress in the first place, then a famous African American woman, too. Being fired in such a high-profile way would make a person very vulnerable.
As American artist Lekelia47 says “all my life I had to grind and hustle/I had to work like Kobe just to shine like Russell.” I believe Gabrielle Union finds herself unfairly and doubly burdened to “make it”. I respect Gabrielle Union as an actress, very much, and I don’t really follow television shows much, and I didn’t follow her as a judge on America’s Got Talent. But, judging from her consistent and quality performances, exceptional performances, it must be very hard to lose this kind of position when you’ve achieved so much more than being a judge on AGT. Despite the pedigree and the quality of her work over so long, she was publicly shamed by being fired from a variety show.
I was also reflecting on how many of us have had this happen to us in big and small ways in our own careers. I am not an actress and I am white, but I am a woman. And I can understand very well how it feels to be passed over, regarded secondarily, less capable, somehow having to prove myself daily despite 20 years of experience in my field. I fight for work, too. This isn’t about women, either. I have met many men who have had big career roles, as CEO for example, who have been fired, lost their jobs, and feel completely lost and isolated. I even know of a CEO who after being fired gave up the corporate game entirely and just left town, parts unknown to me at least. It’s sad to see talented people wasted and tossed aside for what amount to political or intra-personal reasons. In many cases these firing situations have little to do with the person being fired and more to do with those who want them fired for reasons that have little to do with performance.
All 7.7 billion of us on planet earth (and counting) have felt daily disappointment. Or at least most of us have, some royalty excepted.
It was arresting to see the disappointment on Gabrielle Union’s face. And the loving care in the face of her partner. For a change, I guess, it was nice to see something that human in the newspaper, some real experience; though, of course, they took the picture themselves so one could say there was a lot of self promotion going on. Her own PR machine, luckily she has one, can help her get out in front of the story. I get that part. But I think she was showing us some real life too, as an accomplished African American woman, made doubly and triply hard if you make your living being seen and being relevant to the public as a celebrity.
I’m not worried about Gabrielle Union, she’ll be more than fine; she’s worthy of any great role or roles that come her way. And someone of her quality with find other better things to do than judge a silly variety show for Simon Cowell. But it was just an impressive reminder, to me at least, that women especially face disappointment in their careers based on things irrelevant to performance or altogether made up to serve an end. If a person performs well all the time, as she does, that person should be rewarded rather than fired, condemned, shunned. For a moment the gauze of celebrity was pulled back to show a real person hurting for reasons I can understand myself very well in my own way.
The point is, if there is a point to this piece, that man or woman, whatever color, whomever the person is, if they are a star, let them shine. It means you’re a great leader yourself. As Kelis says in the song Little Star, “If it seems like I’m shining/It’s probably a reflection/Of something you already are.”
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