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Wednesday, 20 June 2018

B-Movie Actress Feature Spotlight: Gabrielle Union


Gabrielle Union Wade was born as Gabrielle-Monique Union in Omaha, Nebraska on October 29, 1972, whose onscreen career began in the 1990s by obtaining roles in sitcoms such as Family Matters, Saved By The Bell: The New Class & Moesha. Growing up as a teenager with self-esteem issues, she undertook basketball as a point guard in high school and football at college. Union also played soccer for the University of Nebraska but later turned her attention to becoming an actress. Before that, she worked as a model to pay off her student loans, gracing the covers of Teen magazine. 

After bursting onto the scene in 1999's She's All That and Bring It on opposite Kirsten Dunst, she gained further exposure. A year later, Union made further appearances in a string of teen movies, 10 Things I Hate About You with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Julia Stiles, as well as Love & Basketball. But it was on medical drama series, City of Angels where Union began to shift from being a rising young star and her career started to take off. She also had a cameo in Friends as Joey and Ross fought over her in one episode. Her appearance made history, somewhat, as Union's character became the first Black love interest on the show.  

Union landed her first major movie role in 2002's Bad Boys 2 as the half-sister of Syd, played by Martin Lawrence and girlfriend of Will Smith's character, which prompted speculation and rumours of Gabrielle and Will being romantically involved with each other for many years, which has been debunked by both Union and Smith. Her first leading role came in the romantic comedy, Deliver Us From Eva, which was produced by Barry Levinson, director of Good Morning, Vietnam under Baltimore Pictures. Starring opposite actor & rapper, LL Cool J, Union played the titular lead character, who LL's Ray falls for. Union's performance in the movie, alongside that in Breakin' All The Rules, showed that not only could she cut it in romantic comedies, but that she can be leading girl material as well, with her range and onscreen presence. She also co-starred alongside the Avengers' Jeremy Renner in the romantic drama, Neo Ned

She has spent almost half of her career playing the secondary role as a Black girl in high school in teen movies and her characters seemed to fit an archetype: Black, sassy, female, the sidekick, young, attractive but never dumb, rather they had a rebellious edge to them, which probably is why Gabrielle sells those characters really well. Later on, as she got older, again she was playing second fiddle in Cradle 2 The Grave, Two Can Play That Game

But then came the mid- 2000s where despite the roles that came flooding by, again, these were supporting roles, not the leading ones one would have anticipated. Halle Berry had been fronting and headlining several movies in the 2000s, and yet in Gabrielle Union, somehow, she still languished in a string of unsuccessful, as well as B-movie fare. From the terrible Daddy's Little Girls, 2008's even more terrible Meet Dave to Cadillac Records, her chances of being a huge star were fleeting.

As well as admitting to being a former 'mean girl', which is something she isn't proud of, Union has also spoken publicly about being a victim of sexual assault and has since become an advocate of sorts, giving lectures and talks with other victims and survivors. 

Almost 20 years since She's All That, as I write this, Gabrielle Union is still due her 'big' moment, even when she is in her 40s: a period when roles for actresses in her age bracket, seem to dry up at this point. Working for over 20 years, she recently appeared in Sleepless with Jamie Foxx and secured her starring gig and production duties in 2018's Breaking In, a post-2010 version of Panic Room, which starred Jodie Foster. 


As I see to it, I always saw Gabrielle Union as a Julia Roberts type: she's attractive, beautiful, has a natural ability and possesses a star quality that makes her stand out from other African- American Black actresses and actors in general. She can play the cute, attractive love interest in a romantic comedy and romantic drama, but who also can be a compelling dramatic actress in serious roles and movies. Strong, feisty, no-nonsense, speaks her mind and is very confident, Union can also easily switch to being likeable from one role to being a bad girl in another. She has also avoided the trap of taking up victim-based roles, who cannot fight back and roles that perpetuate Black stereotypes. 


She is one of those, and many Black actresses and actresses of colour, whereby major success has eluded her. But of course, the Hollywood movie industry hasn't been so kind to actors and actresses of colour, like Gabrielle of whom deserves more commercial roles and success, but by putting aside the issues that there are fewer A-list Black movie actresses, Gabrielle Union pretty much ticks all the right boxes, and she deserves to be a big superstar as Halle Berry. I just wished that was the case. 

Nevertheless, for someone who never studied acting, even with the odd flops along the way, given the list of credits she has amassed and for what she has achieved for herself and for African American actresses so far and the turns she has given in notable movies, is rather impressive, coming from Union.


Notable Favourites - Bring It On, Deliver Us From Eva, Breakin' All The Rules, Think Like A Man 

Notable Non-Favourites - Cradle 2 The Grave, Daddy's Little Girls, Meet Dave, The Box



Sources:

Gabrielle Union - Wikipedia 


Gabrielle Union - The Famous People


Career Arc: The - Not Quite-Stardom of Gabrielle Union - Grantland

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