Normally, I am a very conscientious person when it comes to my relationship with technology. I have a set time to shut the screens off at night and I make sure not to check social media in the morning before letting some sort of natural light hit my face first. While technology has succeeded in bringing many of the inhabitants of this world closer together, it is often a hub of self-comparison and doubt, especially for young women.
That being said, the internet certainly isn’t all bad for us. There are many fierce women working in entertainment, politics, education, technology, fashion, and more who use their platforms as a tool to move the progressive needle forward. On social media apps such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, they choose not only to highlight their own accomplishments but celebrate the accomplishments of their female peers as well. One person doing a particularly amazing job at this is actress and producer, Gabrielle Union-Wade.
Depending on who you are, you were introduced to Union-Wade at a different stage of her decades-long career. Perhaps, it was around the time of her first major role in “Saved by the Bell: The New Class.” If you are around my age, it was through early 2000s classics like “Love and Basketball” or “Deliver Us From Eva.” Maybe you didn’t have a clue of who she was until her recent stint as the title character in the popular BET drama, “Being Mary Jane.” And for some of you, Union’s name may not have been a blip on your radar until she boo’d up with NBA superstar Dwayne Wade.
Regardless of how you “met” Gabrielle, her success should come as no surprise. Her brilliant smile coupled with deep dimples and flawless skin is the perfect recipe for movie star success. In interviews, she is hysterical and her laid back, confident energy practically radiates through the screen. In every sense, she is the “cool girl” a lot of us aspire to be, but is still not afraid to share her messy truth.
While seemingly glamourous, Gabrielle’s life has not always been an easy one. In her New York Times best-selling memoir, “We’re Going To Need More Wine” she outlines just how difficult it actually was. She recounts feelings of worthlessness and competition with other women during adolescence, a scarring sexual assault as a teenager, and then a gruesome and financially devastating divorce as a young adult. Top all of this off with some professional setbacks and then recurring fertility issues and you’ve got the foundation of her amazing redemption story.
I have read the complete novel twice now and still crack some of those pages back open whenever I am in need of a specific tidbit of inspiration or advice. I am so drawn to the book’s rawness and how Union-Wade courses her trajectory in Hollywood, depositing the best nuggets of advice along the way. One of the most shocking things I learned from the memoir, however, is that Gabrielle Union-Wade used to be very very mean.
Yes, Gabrielle is a self-proclaimed former mean girl. Her first public acknowledgment of this was at Essence’s 2013 Black Women in Hollywood Luncheon. She was the recipient of the Fierce and Fearless award that year and instead of making a flashy speech, she chose to use her time at the podium to admit a deeper truth. She opened up to the world and let us all know that she didn’t deserve to be called fierce and wasn’t anywhere close to fearless.
In her address, Union-Wade admitted to her own battle with self-worth in Hollywood. She explained how often she did not feel like her authentic self, instead masquerading around as the perfect, pretty-girl type that everyone else wanted her to be. She was happy to be both revered and feared and recounted multiple instances of tearing her fellow sister actresses down in public, rather than lifting them up.
"We live in a town that rewards pretending. I had been pretending to be fierce and fearless for a very long time. I was a victim masquerading as a survivor. I stayed when I should have run. I was quiet when I should have spoken up. I turned a blind eye to injustice instead of having the courage to stand up for what’s right. I used to shrink in the presence of other dope beautiful women. I used to revel in gossip and rumors, and I lived for the negativity inflicted upon my sister actresses or anyone who I felt whose shine diminished my own."
The speech, though painful, was the highlight of the night. As cameras panned the room packed with Gabrielle’s co-workers, peers, sisters, and maybe even former enemies you could see tears welling up in everyone’s eyes. It then reached even further beyond that room as blogs, television programs, and other press pieces picked up the speech and launched the moment into virality. It was so highly-received by the public, that Union-Wade was then invited onto a special episode of “Oprah’s Next Chapter.”
Flash forward several years later and the powerhouse artist is still working on mending those old wounds. Around this time last year, Gabrielle went on another powerful talk show called “The Red Table Talk.” The roundtable-style show is created and hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith, another notable actress who is one half of a Hollywood power couple. The joining of these successful standout women may have seemed destined, but the two actually came clean about NOT being friends. In fact, they never even really liked each other.
Knowing that a public dispute could mean trouble for their careers, they were overly friendly whenever they were photographed together or in public, but this facade would immediately regress into cattiness when the two were out of each other’s earshot. Over the course of the 20-minute conversation, however, Union-Wade and Smith were able to hash out these old attitudes, admitting that neither of them remembered why there was so much tension in the first place.
In “We’re Going To Need More Wine,” Gabrielle shared what it was like to meet 24-year-old actress Ryan Destiny at a party in Los Angeles. Prior to the meeting, Gabrielle had been inundated with press and peers calling Destiny, who was only 22 at the time, the “next Gabrielle Union.” Insecure about this young, seemingly more popular competitor, Gabrielle immediately saw Destiny as a threat, rather than as another talented woman in the entertainment industry she could try to help.
The story does not paint her in a good light, but this admission of spite was the first step towards fostering a better relationship with the young artist. Now, the two reportedly have a very supportive relationship, one which many years of wisdom and therapy sessions ago, Union-Wade may not have been able to develop.
Obviously, I am not a real-life friend of Gabrielle’s, but I can honestly say I’m proud of her as if I was. Watching someone you respect and admire grow into a better version of themselves is always a gift. Nowadays, you can clearly see that she is doing the work to retroactively right many of her past wrongs. Her weekly #womencrushwednesday posts on social media are just one of the ways how.
If you take a quick scroll through Mrs. Union-Wade’s Instagram, you’ll notice a few trends. One, she is a new mother and her baby with husband Dwayne Wade is l-i-t-e-r-a-l-l-y perfect. And two, every week a different woman is featured on her page. These women range in age, occupation, sexual orientation, and so much more, but all have one thing in common: They are all absolute badasses. Comedian Ali Wong, rapper Lizzo, model Tyra Banks, WNBA star Candace Parker, and actress Kelly Marie Tran are just a few of the faces plastered across her platform which has reigned in 13 million followers to date.
The captions on these posts are just as celebratory and provide useful and timely context. When Marsai Martin released the 2019 film “Little” at age 14, she became the youngest executive producer in Hollywood. When Yalitza Aparicio, star of “Roma,” was nominated for an Academy Award in 2018, she became the first indigenous American in history to do so. And if by chance, you did not hear about any of this in the news or on the radio, all you had to do was head to Gabrielle's page.
“Real fearless and fierce women compliment other women and we recognize and embrace that their shine in no way diminishes our light and that it actually makes our light shine brighter."
This is how Union ended her Essence honoree speech, on notions of love and light. We must continue this calling and uplift one another as much as we can; not just for today, but for the generations of empowered women to come. It may have taken Gabrielle more time to come to this conclusion than many of us see fit, she had to wade through pools of Hollywood snarkiness and self-imposed insecurities first, but even this small act of #womencrushwednesday celebration is a step in the right direction. Now it’s on us to continue marching forward.