The report goes into various instances when Union was either a victim of racism on the show or witnessed it. The actress was hired for the 14th season of the talent competition, which wrapped up in September.
Citing anonymous show insiders, Variety reported that on six different occasions, Union was told that frequently changing her hairstyle on the show was “too black” for the TV audience.
She also spoke out when a white male contestant auditioned for the show by impersonating Beyoncé and colored his hands black.
The actress suggested to a producer, as well as an executive producer, the contestant be removed for racial insensitivity, but she was met with resistance. That audition was later taken out of the episode entirely.
Union also expressed concern over a racist joke that was allegedly told by former late night host Jay Leno, who sat in as a guest judge. Leno was speaking about a painting of the show’s judge and executive producer Simon Cowell that hung in the hallway at the time.
The image showed Cowell surrounded by his dogs, and Leno said the animals looked like they’d be “on the menu” at a Korean restaurant, perpetuating the stereotype that it’s commonplace in Asian culture to eat dog meat.
Union tried to convince producers to report the joke to NBC’s human resources department but that never happened. The joke was later removed from the episode, which aired on August 6.
Once news of the termination spread, a few celebrities defended Union, like Jameela Jamil, who stars on NBC’s “The Good Place,” and 2020 presidential candidate Julian Castro.
“Corporate America tells employees and consumers they take racism and sexism seriously,” he tweeted on Wednesday. “But often the person reporting the problem is hurt by management. Kudos to @itsgabrielleu for having the courage to speak out. Still waiting for answers from @nbc.”
NBC eventually gave that answer and seemed to deny that Union was fired for bringing up racism on set.
“‘America’s Got Talent’ has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show,” said NBC and producer Fremantle in a joint statement.
“The judging and host line-up has been regularly refreshed over the years and that is one of the reasons for AGT’s enduring popularity. NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously,” it also read.
On Thursday, the “Bring It On” actress addressed the firing in two separate messages, although she didn’t mention NBC, “America’s Got Talent” or the allegation that she was let go for speaking out against racism.
“So many tears, so much gratitude,” tweeted Union. “THANK YOU! Just when you feel lost, adrift, alone… you got me up off the ground. Humbled and thankful, forever.”
And on Instagram, she wrote “Grateful ❤❤❤ Happy Thanksgiving good people. To all the friends and family that have my back and all the friends and family I’ve never met who show love and support when everyone is looking and when no one is looking…All praise, gratitude and thankfulness.”
Union’s husband Dwyane Wade also addressed the termination.
“When i got the news that my wife was being fired — my first question was obviously why!?” he tweeted on Thursday. “I am still waiting on a good answer to that question. But if anyone knows @itsgabrielleu or have heard of her you know she’s an advocate for our community and culture.”
“As proud as i were of her being selected as a judge on #AGT— I am even more proud of her standing up for what she stands for and that’s US,” he added.