Entertainment & Arts

Gabrielle Union: Ex-America's Got Talent judge discusses 'toxic' environment

Gabrielle Union Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Gabrielle Union also stars in LA's Finest, an offshoot of the Bad Boys film franchise

Former America's Got Talent judge Gabrielle Union has spoken about the "toxic work environment" on set, six months after she left the show.

The LA's Finest actress left the talent show after one series, with reports saying she had been dismissed.

She has now told Variety she raised concerns with producers but "felt singled out as being difficult".

NBC and AGT's producers said they took her concerns "extremely seriously", and they "had no bearing" on her exit.

Union was on the panel for the 14th series of the hugely successful show, with an option to stay on for another year.

Producers Syco Entertainment and Fremantle told BBC they and broadcaster NBC enlisted an external investigator to conduct more than 30 interviews to review the issues she raised.

They referred the BBC to media reports saying the investigation concluded that Union's claims were unfounded.

"The investigation has shown that the concerns raised by Ms Union had no bearing on the decision not to exercise the option on her contract," a statement said.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Simon Cowell's spokesperson said he "does appreciate and respect feedback"

The singer and actress discussed several issues in her interview with Variety, including how Simon Cowell's smoking allegedly made her unwell because she is allergic to cigarette smoke.

The decision about whether to complain was difficult when someone is "coming onto a set and you are literally met with the very definition of a toxic work environment, and it's being carried out by the most powerful person on the production," she said.

She "hesitantly" raised the problem with producers, but was told that "effectively, nothing was going to change", according to Variety.

"I ended up staying sick for two months straight," Union said. "It was a cold that lingered, and turned into bronchitis, because I couldn't shake it. It impacted my voice, which affects my ability to do my job."

Cowell's spokesperson told Variety that "when he was directly informed of the smoking complaint during the first couple of days of the season, he immediately changed his behaviour and the issue was never raised again".

Cowell's spokesperson added: "Simon does appreciate and respect feedback."

'Inclusive environment'

Union raised the issue of hair and make-up being inadequate for contestants from minorities. However, Variety said roughly half of the hair and make-up staff were people of colour.

She also complained about one white male contestant wearing black gloves to represent a black performer in a routine that involved transforming into various famous singers.

And she reportedly asked for NBC's human resources department to be made aware of an on-camera joke made by guest star Jay Leno about Korean food.

A statement about the producers' investigation into her comments said: "We have heard from contestants and talent alike that their experience on AGT has had a positive impact on their lives."

It concluded: "NBC, Fremantle and Syco share Ms Union's dedication to diversity and inclusion in the industry.

"We continue to remain committed to having an inclusive environment for everyone associated with the show, and to upholding AGT as one of the most diverse programs on television."

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