Earlier this month, Jessica Alba and Gabrielle Union sat down for an interview with us to discuss their storied Hollywood careers as two women of color who were starring in their own show, L.A.’s Finest. Shortly after the interview, Spectrum announced it had canceled the series after two seasons. But this news has made the interview, which airs at Vulture Festival tonight, somehow even more relevant. Early in the conversation, when asked how Hollywood has opened opportunities for women of color, Union laughed a little bit. “There’s more because there’s more channels, so there’s that, so I can’t say that there’s not technically more opportunity,” she said. “But when you talk about who is in positions of power, who has the ability to green-light something, who has the ability to help get someone paid, who has the ability to keep something on the air or yank it off, those numbers drop all the way down. And we are under-indexed on positions of power that control this town.” Alba added that she couldn’t name a current film or TV show with Latinx people represented in lead roles. Within a week of saying that, the show Alba and Union star in would be yanked off the air.
But this is a battle both stars have become accustomed to fighting. When discussing their early careers, Union talked about how she started working during a golden age of Black Hollywood: when networks like UPN, the WB, and Fox each had multiple shows starring Black performers. “When they were just beginning, they made their marks off the back of Black shows, and so there were more opportunities,” Union said. “But then it was like, zhoom, like the floor dropped out, and there were, ya know, one great role a year for everybody, and so if you happened to get that one role that year, or got some big opportunity, you were the one Black girl on the cover of a magazine that year. Yeah, you felt like the weight of the world, because you had to be completely perfect.”
Union emphasized that this pressure made speaking up about any issue extremely difficult. Alba nodded along, noting that when she did speak up sometimes, it was not received well. “I had to learn the hard way when people would say, like, ‘You really shouldn’t be like this,’ and I’m like, ‘All I’m saying is shouldn’t everybody know their lines when they come to set?’” Alba said. “I’m here for 16 hours a day. This one person’s coming in for a scene — shouldn’t they kinda know their lines? Ugh.” To watch the whole event, head over to VultureFestival.com to rewatch it on demand before November 1.
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