Gabrielle Union

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Gabrielle Union
Gabrielle union podcast.png
Union in 2018
Gabrielle Monique Union

(1972-10-29) October 29, 1972 (age 49)
EducationUniversity of California, Los Angeles (BA)
  • Actress
  • author
Years active1993–present
(m. 2001; div. 2006)

(m. 2014)
RelativesSaweetie (cousin)

Gabrielle Monique Union (born October 29, 1972)[1] is an American actress. She began her career in the 1990s, appearing on television sitcoms, before landing supporting roles in 1999 teen films She's All That and 10 Things I Hate About You. Her breakthrough role was in the 2000 teen film Bring It On.

Union is known for her performances in the romantic comedy films The Brothers (2001), Deliver Us from Eva (2003), Daddy's Little Girls (2007), Think Like a Man (2012) and Think Like a Man Too (2014). She also had starring roles in the CBS medical drama series City of Angels (2000) and films Bad Boys II (2003), Cradle 2 the Grave (2003), Neo Ned (2005), Cadillac Records (2008), Top Five (2014) and Breaking In (2018). In 2013, Union began starring as lead character in the BET drama series Being Mary Jane, for which she has received an NAACP Image Award. She co-starred in the 2016 film The Birth of a Nation, and next appeared in Almost Christmas (2016) and Sleepless (2017).

Outside acting, Union has written four books: two memoirs, entitled We're Going to Need More Wine (2017) and You Got Anything Stronger? (2021), and two children's books, entitled Welcome to the Party (2020) and Shady Baby (2021). She has also been an outspoken advocate for issues involving women's health and violence against women. Union was included on Time's list of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2020.[2]

Early life[edit]

Union was born in Omaha, Nebraska, the daughter of Theresa (née Glass), a phone company manager and social worker, and Sylvester E. Union, a military sergeant.[3][4] She was raised Catholic.[5] During her childhood, she was taught to be "an independent woman, standing on my own two feet, and that's the road I opted to take."[6] According to Union, her mother taught her to have a "world perspective" and took her to a gay pride parade at the age of eight after the family moved to Pleasanton, California,[7] where she attended Foothill High School.[8]

Her parents divorced after thirty years of marriage. Union had said, "They handled their divorce and our subsequent transition into a blended family with grace, dignity and respect. They always put us first and didn't involve us. I'm lucky that I can just mirror what my parents did and always put the kids first. They're pretty awesome. I'm lucky."[9]

Union grew up with self-esteem issues relating to her appearance, as she believed growing up that "blonde was the ideal of beauty, and if I looked nothing like that, then I must be ugly."[10] On her college football memories, Union reflected, "In my family if you couldn't talk Cornhusker football—that means knowing the Blackshirt defense, knowing the I-back formation—then you don't get to have an opinion. When I first toured the Nebraska campus and I saw Turner Gill walk, I freaked out. That was like the biggest star-struck moment I've probably ever had in my life. But it's because I grew up in a household that always talked specifically Cornhusker football and Big 8 sports at the time."[11]

Union has said her personality as a young person was "mean" until her trainer[specify] A.J. Johnson confronted her over the behavior during a party the two were attending.[12]

In 1991, at the age of 19, Union was attacked and raped at her part-time job at a Payless shoe store by a robber.[13] Union has stated that she would not have survived the attack had it not been for lessons she learned by watching Oprah Winfrey's talk show.[14] She later successfully sued Payless for negligence, alleging that the store failed to warn employees about the assailant, who had been positively identified robbing another Payless location prior to her rape.[15]

Union has a bachelor's degree in sociology from UCLA.[16][17]


Early roles[edit]

Union started her acting career with minor roles. Her first audition was for Saved by the Bell.[18] In 1997, Union appeared in the sixth-season episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine"Sons and Daughters" as the Klingon N'Garen. She also appeared in Sister, Sister as Vanessa, in Smart Guy as Denise, and in five episodes of 7th Heaven as Keesha Hamilton. She also appeared on an episode of Friends, "The One with the Cheap Wedding Dress", as Kristen, a love interest to both Ross & Joey. Other earlier roles included teen movies such as She's All That and 10 Things I Hate About You.[18]


Union in February 2009

Union appeared in the 2000 film Love & Basketball. In the same year, she performed the role of Isis in the cheerleading movie Bring It On. Bring It On helped push Union into the mainstream.[19] Bring It On led to Union being cast in the CBS television drama City of Angels as Dr. Courtney Ellis. Union was featured in The Brothers and was seen as having a "beguiling sincerity, even when she's fudging the truth."[20] Union was cast in her first leading role in the 2003 film Deliver Us from Eva. When casting Eva, director Gary Hardwick was looking for an actress capable of instantly changing "from funny to caustic and dramatic." Hardwick had previously worked with Union in The Brothers and believed she was perfect for the role of Eva.[21] Union's role in the film was met with praise, with Dustin Putman of writing that she was "the star attraction, and the number-one reason to even consider seeing the film."[22] Union drew influence from her father for the "stern" look she had in the film, admitting that she had stolen it from him.[21]

In 2003, Union landed the role of the main character Mike Lowrey's girlfriend, Syd, in the film Bad Boys II, a box-office success grossing more than $273 million worldwide. Union felt that she had been "blessed" with her role in the film, feeling it elevated her career.[23] The following year she appeared in Something the Lord Made. Union starred in the film Breakin' All the Rules in 2004. The film was unpopular with critics.[24][25] She appeared in the 2005 film Neo Ned, portraying an African-American woman with delusions that she is Adolf Hitler. She and co-star Jeremy Renner were noted by Mark Olsen of the Los Angeles Times as having "a strange, offbeat chemistry that drives the film".[26] She won an award for Best Actress in Neo Ned at the Palm Beach International Film Festival, and the film received awards at several festivals.

She starred in the 2005 remake of The Honeymooners.[27] Union starred in the short-lived ABC series Night Stalker. She called the series a "reworking" rather than a remake. Union admitted that at the time of getting the script she was turned off, but she became interested after reading the script at her agent's insistence. She then met with series creator Frank Spotnitz and executive producer Daniel Sackheim, who told her they thought of her anytime they thought of the character.[28] In 2006, she starred in the music video for Busta Rhymes' "I Love My Bitch".[citation needed]

Union starred in the 2007 film Daddy's Little Girls by Tyler Perry. She played Julia Rossmore, a romantically challenged attorney. The role was written with her in mind.[29] Before working with Perry, she went to see his stage show to both understand him and his audience.[30] She filmed Daddy's Little Girls in mid-2006 in Atlanta, Georgia.[31] Union was praised for her character's portrayal and for having a "great sense of comedic timing".[32] Union's character also drew comparisons to Eva, her role in Deliver Us from Eva. According to Union, Perry had specifically approached her over not turning the role into the same character.[33] Union made an appearance in the 2007 Christmas film The Perfect Holiday. Since she had no children of her own, Union drew on her familiarity with her mother and sister to portray the divorced single mother of three in the film.[34] Union initially turned down the role, as she did not want to get typecast for playing a mother until she was told of other actresses that had played similar roles and still found success in their careers.[7]

In an interview with Art Nouveau Magazine, Union complained about the lack of roles for Black actresses and actors in Hollywood: "There used to be [roles] specifically written black, if you knew Denzel was doing a movie you knew his wife, girl or love interest was going to be black [but] that's not necessarily the case anymore. You're in that room with every amazingly talented actress of every hue, and it's a dogfight, it's hard."[35] Moreover, although she often plays weak, insecure characters, Union believes that "Hollywood needs to recognize all shades of African-American beauty."[citation needed]

In 2008, Union appeared on Ugly Betty for three episodes as Renee, Wilhelmina Slater's sister and Daniel Meade's love interest.[citation needed] She also made a cameo appearance in the music video for Ne-Yo's "Miss Independent".[citation needed] Union appeared in the 2008 film Cadillac Records. She was reported to have signed to the film in March 2008.[36][37][38] She portrayed Geneva Wade, who later married Muddy Waters.[39] Union was seen as a "pleasant surprise" in the film, and her performance was said to have shown she had larger acting range than her previous roles.[40] Union later called taking the role of Geneva Wade in the film the best business decision she had ever made.[41] Union appeared in the 2008 film Meet Dave, playing the love interest of the title character. Union said the film was a gift.[42] That same year, she wrote the foreword for Hill Harper's Letters to a Young Sister: DeFINE your Destiny.[43] Union joined the cast of the U.S. television series Life on NBC and appeared in four episodes prior to its cancellation in May 2009.[44] She appeared in the ABC series FlashForward, a role for which she was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series in 2010.[45]


Union in September 2010

Union appeared in episodes of Army Wives and NTSF:SD:SUV:: in 2010 and 2011. She was reported to be joining the cast in June 2010.[46] Union was reported in May 2011 to have landed roles in Think Like a Man, a romantic comedy based on Steve Harvey's book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, and an indie film, Family Tree.[47] In June 2011, Union defended the music video for the Rihanna single "Man Down" after it sparked controversy for its depiction of a rape victim shooting and killing her attacker. Union related that every rape victim was "unique", which extended to how they believed justice should be carried out.[48]

In January 2012, Union was announced to be a participant in Bounce TV's documentary Our History.[49] In 2012, she played Natalie in the romantic comedy Good Deeds, playing the fiancée of the Wesley Deeds character.[50] Union said that after she read the script, she became interested in working with Tyler Perry again and enjoyed working with the cast.[51] She then appeared in Steve Harvey's film Think Like a Man. Union related to her character for having married and divorced young.[52] She and Meagan Good were seen as having taken advantage of their "straightforward characters to add spots of comic zest as well."[53] Her next appearance was In Our Nature. The film was the directorial debut of Brian Savelson, whose writing abilities impressed Union. Savelson had offered Union the role two years prior to the film's release in 2010.[54] Union saw In Our Nature as a personal victory for her career.[55]

In 2013, she began starring in the BET network show Being Mary Jane.[56] Union learned of the series while auditioning for Scandal for the role of Olivia Pope, which ultimately went to Kerry Washington.[57] Union has said that she is content with having lost the role in Scandal to Washington: "I didn't get Scandal, but I got something better, which is my own show."[58] Union was impressed with the show's quality and professionalism.[59] Also in 2013, Union starred in Ava DuVernay's short film The Door as part of Miu Miu's Women's Tales campaign.[60]

Union reprised her role as Kristen in Think Like a Man Too in 2014, but it received mostly negative reviews.[61] She believed the film would do well[62] and faced comparisons to her character, who was a newlywed while Union was engaged at the time, a similarity she dispelled by insisting she kept her relationship "enjoyable, fresh and exciting".[63] Union was announced in July 2014 as a producer in the Lifetime film With This Ring.[64][65] She was featured in Chris Rock's Top Five, playing the fiancée of Rock's character. Union viewed her Top Five character as being similar to members of the Kardashian family or the Braxton sisters.[66] In November 2015, Union began voicing Nala in the Disney movie and series The Lion Guard. In October 2016, Union was featured in The Birth of a Nation as Esther, a slave in the Antebellum South who is raped by a white man.[67] Union stated in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times that she took the role due to her relating to it as a rape victim herself.[68] Later that year, Union had a prominent role as Rachel Meyers in the comedy film Almost Christmas, released in November. Ariel Scotti of The New York Times panned Union's performance: "Each overused phrase that falls out of her character, Rachel's, vindictive, childish mouth takes viewers further out of the movie experience."[69]

In 2017, Union launched Flawless by Gabrielle Union, a line of hair-care products catered to people with textured hair.[70][71] In September 2017, Union announced a collaborative partnership with Invicta Watch Group that included a line of watches she designed.[72]

In 2019, Union began starring as Syd Burnett in the Bad Boys spin-off television series L.A.'s Finest. The series is a Charter Spectrum original series which premiered May 13, 2019.[73] The series was renewed for a second season.[74] Union was also a judge for America's Got Talent for its fourteenth season, but the show failed to renew her contract for another season in November 2019, allegedly after she spoke out against racism. Union's fellow America's Got Talent judge Julianne Hough's contract was also declined to be renewed.[75] In May 2020 Union filed a discrimination suit against the producers of America's Got Talent, citing racism and prejudice.[76]


On Disney Investor Day, December 11, 2020, it was announced that Union would be starring with Zack Braff in a remake of Cheaper by the Dozen,[77] set for release in March 2022.[78] In December 2021, she played Tootie Ramsey in The Facts of Life segment of the third edition of Live in Front of a Studio Audience, recreating the episode "Kids Can Be Cruel".[79]


In April 2017, Union announced her first book, a memoir, entitled We're Going to Need More Wine. The book "feature[s] personal stories and reflections on a range of topics that continue to define the contemporary landscape: sexuality, womanhood, friendship, race, marriage, and beauty."[80] Union described the book as "the good, the bad, and the WTF."[81] The book was published by Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, on October 17, 2017.[82] In December 2017, We're Going to Need More Wine was named a Best Book of the Year by a Black Author by The Root magazine.[83]

In May 2020, Union released her first children's book, an ode to newborns and non-traditional families, Welcome to the Party, inspired by her daughter.[84]

In 2021 Union released a second memoir, You Got Anything Stronger?: Stories.[85]

Other commercial projects[edit]

Union is a spokeswoman for Neutrogena. She became affiliated with Neutrogena in 2004. In November 2014 Union became ambassador for nail polish company SensatioNail. She became the company's first celebrity ambassador and creative advisor. In 2010, Union launched Love & Blessings, a clothing line for plus-sized women.[86] The line was inspired by Union's full-figured sister.[87] In March 2014, Union released her first wine, "Vanilla Puddin'".[88]


Union is an advocate for survivors of assault[89] and has voiced her support for Jada, a Texas teenager who was sexually assaulted after passing out during a party; her sexual assault was filmed and posted in clips online, and it has been mocked by others on social networking websites.[90][91][92]

Union has also spoken about the importance of therapy and how she received family and workplace support to quickly access therapy.[93]

Union addressed the killing of Trayvon Martin and stated, "When you have influence I think it's the responsible thing to do, to speak out on an issue when you see injustice. I'm still fighting for Trayvon [...] we all should."[52] In the months following Martin's death, Union supported a petition that called for Florida District Attorney Norman Wolfinger to bring charges against George Zimmerman.[94] After Zimmerman was acquitted of charges in Martin's death in July 2013, Union remarked, "Apparently walking while black is a crime punishable by death."[95] Union was angered by Todd Akin's position on abortion, which he explained as a woman not being able to get pregnant in the case of "legitimate rape".[96] Tanganyika Williams, the aunt of NBA player Matt Barnes, was killed on July 8, 2014. Union posted on both Instagram and Twitter, calling for anyone with information on the killer of Barnes's aunt to report their information to authorities.[97]

Oprah Winfrey stated that Union's Fierce and Fearless Award acceptance speech, in which Union admitted she once reveled "in gossip and rumors", inspired her because she "had never heard anyone be that honest in public or private about the competition and fierce drive to be seen and succeed in Hollywood."[98]

In February 2012, Union was identified as a suspicious person by airport security and was subjected to a "hair patdown".[99] She tweeted about the experience. "Hopefully my weave doesn't cause turbulence," Union joked. "It's clearly very powerful."[100]

Union ran in the Global Race for the Cure in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, June 2, 2012, in honor of her friend Kristen Martinez, who died from breast cancer.[101] Union was present at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. on August 23, 2013, and unveiled a limited-edition 1963 March on Washington stamp to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the march.[102]

Union is an Ambassador in Susan G. Komen for the Cure's Circle of Promise.[103] Union became a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood's breast health initiative and launched the Women Are Watching campaign with other actresses in 2012. In October 2014, it was announced that Union would be designing T-shirts to bring attention to the Women Are Watching campaign.[104]

In 2020, Union collaborated with JusticeLA to create a public service announcement #SuingToSaveLives about the health of people in L.A. County jails amid the COVID-19 pandemic.[105][106]


In 2008, Union supported Barack Obama in his presidential campaign.[107][108] After working on the unsuccessful pilot for Army Wives, Union was appointed by President Obama to work with the National Advisory Committee for Violence Against Women.[109] Obama contacted her specifically after learning that the pilot had fallen through.[110] Union participated in the Obama campaign's "Greater Together" initiative[111] as part of his re-election campaign in 2012.[112] Union called on Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney to release his tax returns and birth certificate, noting his father George W. Romney had released his own tax returns while a presidential candidate.[113] The office of Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in November 2014 announced a campaign entitled "Take a Stand" and its commission of a short film featuring Union and Tika Sumpter.[114] She was named in the 2020 Time 100 list of most influential people.[115] In the lead up to the 2020 presidential election, Gabrielle encouraged Facebook users to make sure they had everything they needed to make their vote count by seeking out VoteRiders, a national non-profit dedicated to ensuring that all citizens are able to exercise their right to vote.[116]

Personal life[edit]

Union met NFL player Chris Howard at a party in 1999. They married on May 5, 2001, and separated in October 2005.[117] The divorce was finalized in 2006.[118] Union said that when she got divorced she "sort of realized that she hadn't been making sound choices which were the best for her to pursue her hopes and dreams and aspirations and passions."[51] In a 2014 interview, Union stated that she may have rushed into the relationship for the wrong reasons, noting that, "In my 20s, I was all about getting the ring".[119] Union had earlier reflected that she spent much of the marriage "upset", and from the relationship she realized that the men in her life were "just human".[120]

In 2008, Union began dating NBA player Dwyane Wade.[121][122] They married on August 30, 2014, in Miami, Florida,[123] and she became a stepmother to his three children.[124] Union stated in an interview prior to the marriage that she and Wade would be signing a prenuptial agreement to protect their individual assets.[125] Union and Wade spent their honeymoon in the Maldives and Tanzania.[126] On November 7, 2018, they welcomed the birth of their daughter, who was born via surrogate.[127][128]

Awards and nominations[edit]



Year Title Role Notes
1999 She's All That Katarina "Katie" Darlingson
10 Things I Hate About You Chastity Church
2000 Love & Basketball Shawnee
Bring It On Isis
2001 The Brothers Denise Johnson
Two Can Play That Game Conny Spalding
2002 Abandon Amanda Luttrell
Welcome to Collinwood Michelle
2003 Deliver Us from Eva Evangeline "Eva" Dandrige
Cradle 2 the Grave Daria
Bad Boys II Special Agent Sydney "Syd" Burnett
Ride or Die Masked Woman Video
2004 Breakin' All the Rules Nicky Callas
2005 Neo Ned Rachael
The Honeymooners Alice Kramden
Say Uncle Elise Carter
2006 Running with Scissors Dorothy Ambrose
2007 Constellation Carmel Boxer
Daddy's Little Girls Julia Rossmore
The Box Det. Cris Romano
The Perfect Holiday Nancy Taylor
2008 Meet Dave No. 3 - Cultural Officer
Cadillac Records Geneva Wade
2012 Think Like a Man Kristen
Good Deeds Natalie
In Our Nature Vicki
Half the Sky Herself Documentary
2013 Miss Dial Long Story Caller
The Door She Short
2014 Think Like a Man Too Kristen
Top Five Erica Long
2016 The Birth of a Nation Esther [129]
Almost Christmas Rachel Meyers [130]
2017 Sleepless Dena Smith [131]
Girls Trip Herself
2018 The Public Rebecca Parks
Breaking In Shaun Russell
2020 Fearless General Jayne Nadia Blazerhatch (voice)
2022 Cheaper by the Dozen Post-production
TBA The Perfect Find Post-production


Year Title Role Notes
1993 Family Matters Mall Girl Episode: "Scenes from a Mall"
1995–96 Saved by the Bell: The New Class Hilary / Jennifer 2 episodes
1996 Moesha Ashli Episode: "Friends"
Malibu Shores Shannon Everette Episode: "The Competitive Edge"
Goode Behavior Tracy Monaghan Recurring cast
1996–97 Jungle Cubs Sydney (voice) 2 episodes
1996–99 7th Heaven Keesha Hamilton Recurring cast (season 1–3)
1997 Smart Guy Lydia Episode: "Don't Do That Thing You Do"
Dave's World Carly Episode: "Oh Dad, Poor Dad"
Hitz Soul Episode: "The Godfather: Not the Movie"
City Guys Katisha Grant Episode: "The Date"
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine N'Garen Episode: "Sons and Daughters"
Sister, Sister Vanessa / Shawn Guest (season 4), recurring cast (season 5)
1998 The Steve Harvey Show Naomi Parson Episode: "The He-Man, Player-Hater's Club"
1973 Renee TV movie
1999 Clueless Lydia Episode: "Prom Misses, Prom Misses"
Grown Ups Felicia Episode: "Pilot"
The Wonderful World of Disney Gabrielle Episode: "H-E Double Hockey Sticks"
2000 ER Tamara Davis Episode: "Family Matters"
The Others Lindsay Episode: "Theta"
Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane Lana Episode: "Too Much Pressure"
City of Angels Dr. Courtney Ellis Main cast (season 2)
2001 Friends Kristen Lang Episode: "The One With The Cheap Wedding Dress"
Close to Home Gabby TV short
2003 The Proud Family Sunny Stevens / Iesha (voice) Episode: "Hooray for Iesha"
2004 The West Wing Meeshel Anders Episode: "The Benign Prerogative"
Something the Lord Made Clara Thomas TV movie
2005 Family Guy Shauna Parks (voice) Episode: "Peter's Got Woods"
2005–06 Night Stalker Perri Reed Main cast
2007 Football Wives Chardonnay Lane TV movie
2008 Ugly Betty Renee Slater Recurring cast (season 2)
2009 Life Detective Jane Seever Recurring cast (season 2)
Body Politic Jessica Sharp TV movie
2009–10 FlashForward Zoey Andata Recurring cast
2010 Army Wives Gina Holt Episode: "Murder in Charleston"
2011 NTSF:SD:SUV Sandy Canyons Episode: "Tijuana, We've Got a Problem"
Little in Common Brooke Burleson TV movie
2013 Ridin' Dirty with Officer Turner Officer Turner TV series short
2013–19 Being Mary Jane Mary Jane Paul Main cast
2015 With This Ring Kitty TV movie
The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar Nala (voice) TV short
2016–19 The Lion Guard Nala (voice) Recurring cast
2019 America's Got Talent Herself/Judge Season 14[132]
Gay of Thrones Herself Episode: "The Dong Night"
2019–20 L.A.'s Finest Special Agent Sydney "Syd" Burnett Main cast
2021 A Black Lady Sketch Show Herself Episode: "Sister, May I Call You Oshun?"
Live in Front of a Studio Audience Tootie Riley Episode: "Diff'rent Strokes and The Facts of Life"

Music videos[edit]

Year Title Artist Ref.
1999 "15 Minutes" Marc Nelson
2003 "Paradise" LL Cool J featuring Amerie [133]
2006 "I Love My Bitch" Busta Rhymes featuring and Kelis [134]
2008 "Miss Independent" Ne-Yo [135]
2011 "Man Down" Rihanna [136]


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  35. ^ | Art Nouveau Magazine | Art, Fashion, Music, Culture Archived November 21, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
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