Social media is full of people commenting “#RelationshipGoals” and “#BodyGoals” but what about #SelfEsteemGoals” and #SelfConfidenceGoals. I’ve interviewed hundreds of people in my nearly ten years of being a journalist and many actors and artists have a cookie cutter, media trained, well rehearsed response to questions about their projects as well as their personal life. Unless they’re coming out with a memoir or a biopic, it’s rare to have a celebrity, especially one that’s still in the prime of their career, be so open and candid about their insecurities and how they’ve gone about achieving wholeness.
The way in which Gabrielle Union-Wade, 46 (#HowSway?) tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth should be required reading during freshmen orientation in college classrooms and in the seat back pocket of an airplane for any young person on their way to Hollywood or New York City with a dream of ‘making it big’.
I’m stanning so hard for this interview with Gabi because as someone who is currently in therapy working through my self-esteem issues in the midst of building a brand thats contingent upon my transparency–I’m realizing that success, opportunities and longevity in the industry isn’t based on how well you hide your flaws; instead, it’s about your ability to be honest with yourself and others so your issues don’t own you. You should control your narrative.
I’ve seen several of Gabi’s films, I love her show “Being Mary Jane” but it’s not her acting (necessarily) that will make me continue to support her. It’s the fact that I can now see myself in her. I’m inspired and empowered by the fact that she is me; she’s been where I am and if I can be half as confident, vivacious and as #UnFuckWithAble as Gabi when I’m her age, then I look forward to who I’m becoming.
[bctt tweet=”You were fly, dope & amazing from birth. You were worthwhile & valid the second you took your first breath” username=”@itsgabrielleu”]
ZD: People love living vicariously through the characters on Sex and the City or Girls, however, when women of color are sexually liberated i.e. Being Mary Jane, Scandal or How To Get Away With Murder, these fictitious women are labeled “hoes.” What are your thoughts on the double standards of how sexuality is portrayed on TV? And as a dark-skinned woman, are you cognizant that you’re helping to redefine the standards of beauty and sexuality in Hollywood?
GUW: As a brown skin woman, within my own community, I was never seen as a sex object; I was always the funny friend. If I was in a crowded room with a bunch of women, I was definitely not anyone that anyone else would have described as “sexy.” Instead, people would compliment me on my great personality. For about the first 15 years of my career, I wasn’t called upon for those types of roles. So I could give you a righteous answer about what I would and wouldn’t do but no one ever asked me to be naked or overtly sexual. As I moved out of those teen roles into more mature roles like Bad Boys, I was in a bikini. And in Cradle 2 the Grave, I had a lap dance scene and I was terrified.
When I first read the script, there was no lap dance scene. When I got to work one day my character had evolved into a bank-robbing jewel thief lap dancer. It was the first time in my career where I was cognizant of the fact that there was this assumption that as a ‘black woman,’ I knew how to dance like a stripper, make my ass clap, and back it up into a camera while understanding my angles. Fatima Robinson had to be hired to choreograph the lap dance.
I was so scared that Halle Berry sent me a note through our mutual friend that basically said, ‘Nothing is worth your peace of mind and if you’re that uncomfortable with the scene, don’t do it and don’t believe anyone that says your career will be over if you choose not to do it.’
In my mind I was like, ‘Of course she can say that. She’s Halle Berry.’
Eventually, I did the scene and afterwards, it changed how I was received in Hollywood. After I was in Bring It On, there was a certain level of respect people had for me. It was like, ‘Yes! You fought against cultural appropriation, you held people responsible and were a leader!’ Then after Cradle 2 the Grave, people were pausing the lap dance scene to take screenshots of my body, and as a sexual assault survivor, it was mortifying. I felt so naked, vulnerable and like a target. Strangely enough, after my first divorce, feeling like I failed publicly, no one is ever going to love me and I’m never going to be seen as desirable again, I get Being Mary Jane and she’s this very sexually free woman at that time in my life, being 40, it felt very free to feel wanted even if it was for pretend. To play a character that was so desirable, confident and in control of her sexuality and sexual experience was amazing.
If other people try to tell you what’s acceptable when its comes to your sexuality, you have to call bullshit…
Then, you start to see the comments of people calling Mary Jane a “hoe” and a “home-wrecker,” Olivia Pope [Kerry Washington] and Annalise Keating [Viola Davis] are hoes because on our television shows we’re in control of our own sexual narrative? Damn, if that’s the parameters then there are a lot of men and women that are hoes.
I choose to define sexuality differently and you have to figure out what you’re comfortable with. Not everyone is comfortable with multiple partners or casual sex and that’s okay; it doesn’t make you a saint or me a sinner. If other people try to tell you what’s acceptable when its comes to your sexuality, you have to call bullshit; last I checked, the only person my vagina was attached to was me, so anyone else’s opinions about that are unnecessary, uninvited and unwarranted. For most of us, that’s hard. I’m not Mary Jane but when I see the horrible things people say about the character, I feel crucified. In terms of sexuality in Hollywood, you have to do what you’re comfortable with.
ZD: What is your advice to young women who are attempting to repair their self-worth and self-esteem after going through a traumatic experience like rape or sexual assault?
GUW: Firstly, you have to forgive yourself for doubting yourself and doubting your memory because so much of it is internalizing it all and feeling guilt and shame for something we have zero control over. Many of the people closest to us will say, ‘That’s what you get for being fast,’ or ‘What did you do? What were you wearing? What did you say?’ Because in a lot of our families, identifying evil that looks like us, that we’ve invited into our homes, is incredibly difficult, painful and can leave you feeling very powerless. It can be difficult to acknowledge that it happened which can lead to repressed memories which makes the path to recovery so much more difficult…You have to become your own best advocate to overcome the hurdles that might be in your path. Sometimes the people that are holding us back are the people closest to us. Sometimes your mom, dad, best friend or boyfriend isn’t supportive. Maybe they’re blaming you or questioning your truth and sometimes the only way to get around that is to distance yourself emotionally because a lot of us may not have the luxury of putting a physical distance between the people that doubt you, but you can develop the skills that allow you to have emotional distance when you can’t have physical distance.
Sometimes the people that are holding us back are the people closest to us…you can develop the skills that allow you to have emotional distance when you can’t have physical distance.
ZD:Your confidence and self-assuredness at 43 is admirable. How has your opinion of yourself evolved from when you were in your 20s? Did you have to work on finding yourself or did you always have a pretty good idea of who you were?
GUW:When I was a senior at UCLA, I had just started modeling but no one was checking for me when it came to my body or my face. I have great parents, I have a great support system, I had a job, I’m educated but, at that time, I wanted nothing more than to be cast in the 2Pac “California Love” music video. I stood in line with girls I knew from USC, UCLA, Long Beach State–educated, Christian girls, we all waited in line, for our chance to dance in front of 2Pac and 25 of his closest friends because there was something about being chosen that was so intoxicating that we objectified ourselves and we were okay with it.
I always come back to that experience because my self-esteem was so low that all I wanted was to be chosen. [The thought was] if that person chooses me then I must be worthwhile.
For so many of us, we chase that and it isn’t necessarily just girls that weren’t raised with a father–my dad was there every day. Woke up, he was there, went to sleep, he was there. He told me positive affirmations but my dad never said I was pretty. ‘That’s a great crossover’, ‘Nice jump shot’, ‘You’re so smart,’ but I was never validated for my looks. My parents thought that was the best route because you don’t validate young black girls for their looks; you validate them for their achievements. Cut to me standing in a three-hour line waiting for my chance to objectify myself hoping to be chosen by 2Pac. And I see that played out every day. That longing for someone to validate you is exemplified all the time in reality TV, through social media, in schools and even in corporate America.
I was never validated for my looks…Cut to me standing in a three-hour line waiting for my chance to objectify myself hoping to be chosen by 2Pac.
ZD: What advice would you share with young women in their 20s, especially those aspiring actresses and artists who are trying to find themselves while trying to make it in the entertainment industry?
GUW:I would tell my 20-year-old self, ‘You were fly, dope and amazing from birth. From the second you took your first breath you were worthwhile and valid and you have to find other ways to feel good about yourself that have nothing to do with being chosen by a man.’ …There are people that have asked and assume that my greatest accomplishment is getting married and I’m like, ‘No, my wedding is not an accomplishment. The fact that I made it down the aisle with Dwyane Wade isn’t an accomplishment. Graduating from UCLA is an accomplishment, being a sexual assault survivor is an accomplishment, being a part of The National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women (NAC) appointed by President Obama– that’s an accomplishment.’ Getting this man down the aisle isn’t an accomplishment. Just being chosen isn’t an accomplishment.
You have to find other ways to feel good about yourself that have nothing to do with being chosen by a man…
ZD: For those people who don’t want to support “The Birth Of A Nation” because of the controversy surrounding Nate Parker or because they think it’s just “another slave movie” why are you so passionate about people seeing this film?
GUW: My mother took me aside in high school to teach me the story of Nat Turner because she saw that I had completely assimilated into white culture. When she was around, she would hear adversity come up and she saw that I would never speak up, I was always the one that didn’t want to draw too much attention to myself, I just wanted to fit in. So when I was 14, she took me to the library so I could research Nat Turner and I learned that what he did was a different type of resistance than Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, Jr.
Nat Turner was a tangible American hero that I could look up to that dared to fight back and push back. There are a lot of us that need to see it’s okay to stand up and do what’s right no matter the cost. Our country is built on resistance but we can’t just acknowledge the resistance from British rule; we have to also acknowledge the slaves’ resistance of oppression.
If you’ve ever been a position where you didn’t feel strong enough to fight back and do the right thing, this film is for you. If you have an issue that you stand behind that you feel like doesn’t get enough coverage or resources and you want to stand up and feel inspired to fight for whatever cause you believe in, this film is for you. And if you feel like there have been too many slavery movies…there have been too many slavery movies where we’re not our own saviors. Instead, we’re waiting for the same white people who oppressed us to save us.
This is not ‘another slave movie.’ This film is about black liberation, our humanity, our hope and our love and I haven’t seen these topics portrayed in a film to this degree. There’s never been a film like The Birth Of A Nation….I’m going to continue to live at that intersection because my womanness and my blackness are intrinsically linked. I hope that the film will inspire you to take the spirit of action, resistance and personal liberation and apply it to your own lives.
To read the full interview with Gabrielle Union visit: xoNecole