Gabrielle Union Calls out Julianne Hough's 2013 Blackface in 'America's Got Talent' Legal Battle

Gabrielle Union is calling out former America's Got Talent co-star Julianne Hough as she files suit over the way she was treated on the set of the NBC show during her one-season stint as a judge in 2019. The actress alleged she experienced both racism and sexism during her time on AGT in a lawsuit she filed Thursday against Simon Cowell, Fremantle Productions, NBC Universal and Syco Entertainment.

According to the complaint obtained by The Blast, Union claims she was fired from the NBC series over her "refusal to remain silent in the face of a toxic culture at AGT that included racist jokes, racist performances, sexual orientation discrimination, and excessive focus on female judges' appearances, including race-related comments. Union raised numerous complaints while working on AGT."

Union also called out NBC's decision to hire Hough and other celebrities who have done blackface in the past, such as Jimmy Fallon, Fred Armisen and Ted Danson as proof of "NBC's current attitude towards racism." Hough famously was called out publicly after attending a 2013 Halloween party dressed as Uzo Aduba's character on Orange Is the New Black, having darkened her skin.

In the suit, Union claims that producers decided to hire her alongside Hough in bad faith. "Combining someone who so openly wore blackface with someone who is black and regularly advocates on behalf of minorities should have at least alerted Telegdy that this could cause Union to experience some trepidation or concern about being unprotected from racially insensitive individuals while working as a judge on AGT," the suit alleges.

Union made many complaints about the working environment on AGT, including Cowell's illegal smoking on set. This contestant performed with a form of blackface and alleged racist comments from Howie Mandel and Jay Leno. She also described being discriminated against for her hair being "too black." Because of her speaking out, the suit claims "she was labeled as 'intimidating' and viewed as the problem, thus resulting in her termination." The lawsuit is seeking unspecified damages and calls for changes to be made at NBCUniversal.


Following initial reports of the reason behind Union's firing, Hough said on the TODAY show, "I commend Gabrielle for speaking her truth and starting a conversation. I'm also really proud of NBC as well for showing up and starting a narrative, and that's what's going to change the workplace and the paradigm that we've been working in for many, many years, and it's shifting, and I think that's really, really exciting."

The Dancing With the Stars alum continued, "Life is crazy, and sometimes you can't control things, and when obstacles come your way, you have to be graceful about it and have integrity. I think that people with authenticity and integrity will create change."