Gabrielle Union. Picture: Instagram
Gabrielle Union. Picture: Instagram

A-listers speak out against Hollywood’s systemic racism, colourism and discrimination

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published May 31, 2021

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Some of the biggest names in Hollywood have at one point or another experienced some level of systemic racism, colourism and discrimination.

We’ve seen this play out all too often at prestigious award ceremonies, too.

Back in 2016, Will Smith boycotted the Oscars for its lack of diversity.

This was on the back of all the acting nominees being white for the second year in a row.

In his interview with “Good Morning America”, he explained: “We're part of this community. But at this current time, we're uncomfortable to stand there and say, ‘This is okay’.”

Despite the call for inclusivity and equality growing louder and louder over the years, the wheels of change have been slow to respond.

More recently, NBC announced that it will not host the Golden Globes 2021.

This was after the Hollywood Foreign Press Association came under fire for its lack of diversity, among other claims.

NBC’s decision was preceded by WarnerMedia, Netflix and Amazon cutting off all ties with the HFPA.

Since the start of the “Black Lives Matter” campaign following the death of George Floyd, actors have used the platform to effect a culture of change in Tinseltown.

Giants in the industry are still not immune to racial discrimination. Viola Davis, Sandra Oh, Thandie Newton, Zendaya and Idris Elba have felt the full brunt of this pervading toxic culture.

Gabrielle Union took swift action after her acetous reception by her peers as a judge on “America’s Got Talent”.

She filed a discrimination complaint with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, where she made several allegations included being unfairly ousted as a judge on the show for raising concerns about a toxic workplace environment.

Other reports claim that Union “received excessive notes on their physical appearance" and was also told that her hair was “too black” for the show.

The actress reached a settlement with NBC.

Although Union was in a position to challenge the network, not everyone is as brave for fear of reprisals in the incestuous industry.

Kat Graham, who played Bonnie Bennet in “The Vampire Diaries”, was a hugely popular character in the hit supernatural teen drama franchise.

She was 19 years old when this role catapulted her to success.

That said, her “tokenism” casting was compounded by her mistreatment behind the scenes. But she held her tongue for the longest time.

While her character getting killed off in every season became a running joke at Comic-Con, she wasn’t laughing.

Her fans were quick to rush to her defence and heavily criticised co-creator Julie Plec over Bonnie’s story arcs, especially with the love interest she was paired with. Many felt she had the worst storylines and character growth, despite being a lead cast member.

Plec was very dismissive of the noise from “certain fans”. But the various press conferences were very telling of how the half-Jewish actress was ostracised by certain members.

Adding insult to injury, one cast member tweeted something to Jewish Bonnie fans, too, but deleted his objectionable post shortly after.

There was also talk about the showrunners dimming down her looks.

Graham once said: “I asked a few times for more natural hair but I was shut down pretty quickly.”

Last year, NeNe Leakes spilt the tea with Tamron Hall following her controversial exit from “The Real Housewives of Atlanta”.

No stranger to the spotlight, Leakes was in “The New Normal”.

She also appeared on “ The Celebrity Apprentice” and “Dancing with the Stars” as well as made her Broadway debut in Rodgers & Hammerstein's “Cinderella” and was later cast in “Chicago”.

Leakes was a breakout star on “RHOA” and she was loved and hated in equal measures.

She first addressed the decision to leave the show despite her husband Gregg advising her to take the deal.

Leakes said: “They offered six episodes.”

This was a stark contrast to the usual 18 - 24 episodes she would do and she saw it as a diminished role despite her salary remaining the same.

The reality star added: “Over the past four years, I have felt very forced out. I have felt that my role was being diminished… I was just trying to understand why I was being given less and less every season, from the show that I helped to become successful.”

On why she was being forced out.

She responded: “That’s something I can’t speak on but there were things happening behind the scene. Because that is what is happening.

“Many of you guys know, this was before ‘Potomac Housewives’, when I joined the ‘Real Housewives of Atlanta’ season one, the next season they took out an original girl. And the next season they took out another original girl...and then just left me.

“And then for a very long period of time, for a few years, I was the only black original housewife in the entire franchise. All of the original housewives were white and we were definitely treated differently.”

Leakes tell-all sadly impugns a comment made by Bravo TV’s Andy Cohen, who once called her an icon of the genre.

In an industry saturated with some of the most talented Black and Asian actors - many of whom have also gone on to create platforms where the narrative extends beyond “tokenism” roles - it is time for Hollywood’s blanket discrimination to fall as the chorus for change chimes louder.

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