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Melissa Benoist and Gabrielle Union Speak Their Truths; It's Important that We Show Them Our Support

By Brian Richards | Social Media | December 5, 2019 |

By Brian Richards | Social Media | December 5, 2019 |


“If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.”

This timeless quote comes from legendary writer Zora Neale Hurston, and I couldn’t help but think of this quote due to several incidents that occurred this past week involving women speaking up and speaking their truths about pain that they’ve either endured or pain that they’ve witnessed or both. Unfortunately, when it comes to women refusing to be silent about their pain and the pain of others, the only guaranteed result is that those women will be told (mostly by men) that they should have just remained silent and not say anything in the first place.

Let’s start with Supergirl star Melissa Benoist. Last Wednesday, Melissa posted a fourteen-minute video on Instagram in which she described how she was a survivor of domestic violence at the hands of her first husband, who she chose to not name in her video, but for anyone and everyone who is aware that Google is free, it is public knowledge that before Melissa exchanged vows this past Labor Day to her former Supergirl co-star, Chris Wood, she was married to actor Blake Jenner from possibly 2013 until 2017. From Deadline:

“I am a survivor of domestic violence or IPV (intimate partner violence), which is something I never in my life expected I would say, let alone be broadcasting into the ether,” she said in the video.

“The stark truth is I learned what it felt like to be pinned down and slapped repeatedly, punched so hard the wind was knocked out of me, dragged by my hair across pavement, head-butted, pinched until my skin broke, shoved into a wall so hard the drywall broke, choked,” she said. “I learned to lock myself in rooms but quickly stopped because the door was inevitably broken down. I learned to not value any of my property — replaceable and irreplaceable. I learned not to value myself.”

Benoist finally took action when her partner threw an iPhone at her face, causing some major injuries.

“The impact tore my iris, nearly ruptured my eyeball, lacerated my skin and broke my nose,” she said. “My left eye swelled shut. I had a fat lip … Something inside of me broke, this was too far.”

After a discussion with a friend, Benoist decided to leave the relationship.

“Leaving was not a walk in the park. It is not an event, it’s a process. I felt complicated feelings of guilt for leaving and for hurting someone I had protected for so long, and yes, [a] mournful feeling of leaving something familiar,” she said. “But luckily, the people I let in, the more I was bolstered, I never lost the sense of clarity that kept telling me, ‘You do not deserve this.’”

Naturally, there was plenty of shock at Melissa’s revelation, especially when several of her fans were able to put the pieces together and realized that when Melissa appeared as a guest on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon and joked about some injuries to her face as a result of her klutzy behavior, the injuries were actually because of physical abuse she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband. And many of those fans went to Twitter to show Melissa their support, along with her present and former colleagues.

Not surprisingly, Chris Wood came on Twitter to show his support for Melissa while also wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving.

And soon after that, fans started showing their support by also using the #IStandWithMelissa hashtag.

On another note that’s equally upsetting, it was also revealed last week that Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough had both been fired from their positions as co-hosts on America’s Got Talent. Gabrielle hasn’t yet commented on the matter, but according to Variety, there have been a few anonymous sources who have been willing to do so and share their side of the story as to why and how this happened. One of the main reasons being a visit from Jay Leno.

In April of this year, former late night host Jay Leno visited NBCUniversal in Los Angeles to appear as a guest judge on the network’s unscripted program “America’s Got Talent,” a variety show that seeks out undiscovered musicians, performers and other quirky artists.

On the second floor of a production building on the North Hollywood lot, Leno taped an interstitial segment in the presence of show judges including Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough. While taping, Leno made a crack about a painting on display in a hallway of Simon Cowell, the show’s executive producer and judge, surrounded by his dogs. Leno joked that the pets looked like something one would find “on the menu at a Korean restaurant,” four people present for the taping told Variety.

Individuals at the long-running program found the joke to be offensive — especially for what one insider described as “the very few Asian staffers” employed by the show, one of whom was present when Leno spoke the line directly to camera. The joke was viewed as perpetuating stereotypes about Asian cultures consuming dog meat.

Union, a new hire for the 14th season of “America’s Got Talent,” urged producers to report the joke to human resources at NBC, multiple insiders familiar with the show said. Her argument was that production needed to understand why the joke might offend the staff and audience of “AGT,” according to three people who overheard conversations with Union and producers. The issue of reporting to human resources was specifically raised with an NBC executive on set, but several insiders said it was never escalated to that department.

The line was cut from the episode when it eventually aired on August 6.

And that wasn’t the only example of how the set of America’s Got Talent was often a toxic working environment for Gabrielle. There were complaints about her hairstyles, which were often considered to be “too Black.” There was Simon Cowell’s insistence of smoking on set, despite the fact that Gabrielle is allergic to cigarette smoke. And even her thoughtful gesture towards drag performers of asking them their preferred pronouns was something that apparently annoyed some of the show’s producers. But what turned out to be the biggest dealbreaker for Gabrielle was her support of one contestant who appeared on the show and how that contestant was treated.

…Tensions hit an irrevocable high after an incident involving a 10-year-old black rapper named Dylan Gilmer. According to two sources, Union was told in a production meeting by producers that the show needed to pick an act “that America can get behind.” Union objected to their suggestion that a dance group from Texas made up of white contestants could be that act, as it did not receive as much of an enthusiastic reply from the audience as Gilmer, according to two sources.

A source close to the production of the show denied that producers said they needed to pick an act “that American can get behind,” and said that producers would never use such language.

In that same meeting, after contestants from a choir from South Africa (made up of black African members) were brought up, sources recall Howie Mandel saying, “Maybe they can sing something from The Lion King.” Cowell and Mandel, reached through NBC Entertainment PR, did not offer a comment.

Union was frustrated, according to three sources. She felt producers were implying that American audiences couldn’t get behind a 10-year-old black rapper, a viewpoint she felt was racist. But the decision was made to cut Gilmer from the show. (He later was a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Tyler Perry gave him his own show on BET.) Union was so angry, according to two sources, that she went outside to get fresh air and returned after about five minutes to find Cowell furious that she had left.

A source close to the production told Vulture that Cowell later told Union that if it was that important to her, he would be willing to spare Gilmer. But other sources said Cowell was hostile and aggressive when he delivered that message and, at that point, Union had had enough.

Not too long after that, the decision was made to fire Gabrielle from her hosting duties on America’s Got Talent. Which so far hasn’t me things any easier or better since, according to this post from Kayleigh yesterday, that there now appears to be a SAG-AFTRA investigation looking into what exactly happened and who was responsible.

SAG-AFTRA released a statement yesterday to announce that they had ‘immediately reached out to Ms. Union’s representatives when these reports came to light. It is our practice to work closely with members who reach out to us and their representatives in instances like this, as that usually affords the best protection and best resolution for the affected member.’

And once social media found out what happened to Gabrielle and why she was let go, they didn’t hesitate to show their support for her. And much of that support came from other Black women who know all too well about the numerous ways that a work environment can be toxic, insulting, and emotionally draining to deal with on a daily basis, and how they’re expected to shut up and be grateful instead of speaking up in defense of themselves (or just speaking at all, or speaking in a way that is not entirely concerned with the feelings of White women who use weaponized White tears to make Black women look like ruthless and uncaring aggressors).

(And anyone who has followed Gwen Stefani’s musical career long enough knows that this type of cultural appropriation from her is nothing new)

Gabrielle also got some online support from her husband, former basketball player Dwyane Wade.

Although Julianne Hough would later deny, or at least not make any direct references to the reasons behind her exit and Gabrielle’s, Terry Crews, host of America’s Got Talent, reached out to Gabrielle to show his support as well. However, Terry’s support was viewed by some as rather lackluster, especially compared to how Gabrielle spoke out on Terry’s behalf when he was in the news regarding his sexual assault that occurred back in 2017. As one person pointed out on Twitter, his tweet was damn near the equivalent of writing “see you next summer” in you friend’s yearbook.

And if that wasn’t enough, Howard Stern recently stepped into the ring to discuss what was happening, and made it very clear whose corner he was in and who was responsible for America’s Got Talent not being the best place to work. And when Howard Stern himself is calling you out on being an unpleasant misogynist to be around and work with, you know you done fucked up. From TV Line:

“What [Simon Cowell] manages to do on all his shows is he constantly replaces the hot chicks with hotter chicks and younger chicks,” Stern said Monday on his SiriusXM radio show. “He sets it up that the men stay, no matter how ugly they are, no matter how old they are, no matter how fat they are, no matter how talentless they are.”

Stern, who was a judge from Season 7 to Season 10, called America’s Got Talent “the ultimate example of a boys’ club.”

For many women, speaking out when it comes to the mistreatment they receive from other men is never easy or pleasant, whether it’s coming from a spouse, co-worker, or supervisor. Especially when most of the responses they receive for speaking out usually tend to look and sound like this…

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Which makes it all the more important for women like Melissa Benoist, Gabrielle Union, and countless others to know that there are people willing to listen to what they have to say, to believe them when it comes to what is being said, to stand alongside them for whatever may come next, and to show their support in letting them know that such behavior can’t and won’t be tolerated. Because unfortunately, it’s not going to be the last time that overwhelming support like this will be needed when someone who is being abused and mistreated, or someone who sees others being abused and mistreated, and refuses to remain silent about it.

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Brian Richards is a Staff Contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.

Header Image Source: Getty Images