Since taking on a non-speaking role as a slave who is raped in Birth of a Nation, Gabrielle Union has become a vocal advocate for women of color and sexual-assault victims. In a new interview with Harper’s Bazaar, the actress explains that she took the role in part because it would give her a platform to speak out about “the history of sexual assault being used as a weapon of mass destruction against black female bodies.”
“I was going to then go on a press tour and be able to say all the things that I’ve wanted to say, that I’ve been saying for the past 25 years — whether that be testifying before Congress or state legislatures — to the biggest audience I was ever going to get to listen to me talk about sexual assault,” explains Union, who is herself a rape survivor.
Birth of a Nation, once hailed as a possible Oscar-winner, lost momentum after it was revealed that writer, director and star Nate Parker had been accused of rape when he was a college student at Penn State in 1999. “This is something we all signed up for with this very specific goal,” says Union. “Black liberation. Black resistance from the perspective of a sexual-assault survivor. And we don’t even get to talk about that.”
Union says she is particularly disappointed that the film’s female stars, like Aja Naomi King, who played Nat Turner’s wife, Cherry, aren’t getting the recognition they deserve. “It’s like we all got thrown out,” she says. “It’s like the baby and the bathwater all went down the drain.”
While Birth of a Nation may not have been the platform she had hoped for, Union isn’t giving up her megaphone anytime soon. In the far-reaching profile — worth reading in full — Union describes the “bullshit” that comes with being a black actress (“When do you stand up and point out every micro-aggression, and when do you stand down so you’re not the angry black person all the time?”), learning to embrace her blackness, and how she is calling out women in Hollywood like Kate Upton, Lena Dunham, and Amy Schumer for their “white girl privilege.” Union says she has already had one conversation about these issues with Dunham, and has suggested more conversations with white women in Hollywood would “help to explain the oppressive systems that have benefited and allowed them to say these careless, insensitive and offensive things.”
Going forward, Union says she would like to take on more behind-the-scenes responsibility on film projects, perhaps serving as an executive producer. “Maybe the next slave narrative, I’ll have a little more control,” she says.