Gabrielle Union

Actress Gabrielle Union essayed self-assured African-American women in a diverse array of projects, ranging from comedies like "Bring It On" (2000) and "Bad Boys II" (2003) to series like "Being Mary Jane" (BET, 2013-19). Born Gabrielle Monique Union on October 29, 1972 in Omaha, Nebraska, she relocated with her family to the Bay Area suburb of Pleasanton, California, when she was eight years old. She later attended Foothill High School, where she excelled at an array of sports, before graduating in 1991. From there, she followed in the footsteps of two uncles by attending the University of Nebraska, before transferring to Cuesta College and finally, UCLA, where she earned her degree in sociology with honors in 1996. Though she intended on next tackling a law degree, Union found herself modeling, with the intention of using the money to pay off her college loans, through an internship at a Los Angeles modeling agency. When she completed the internship, the agency took her on as a client and submitted her for minor roles on television series; she began landing appearances on shows like "Family Matters" (CBS, 1989-1998), which led to recurring turns on "Sister, Sister" (ABC/The WB, 1994-99) and her feature film debut in the teen comedy "10 Things I Hate About You" (1999). Union's breakout film role, as the tough captain of an inner-city cheerleading squad in "Bring It On," came the following year, and the film's popularity provided her with the boost she needed to transition full-time to features. Union was soon a go-to performer for smart, confident young African-American women in features like "The Brothers" (2001), the comedy "Welcome to Collinwood" (2002) with George Clooney, and the action-thriller "Cradle 2 the Grave" (2003) with Jet Li and rapper DMX. But her film stardom appeared to peak with her turn as Will Smith's girlfriend in "Bad Boys II"; subsequent film projects, including an African-American take on "The Honeymooners" (2005), and an adaptation of Augusten Burroughs' "Running with Scissors" (2006), failed to attract audiences, and by 2005, Union had returned to regular work on television. She joined the cast of the offbeat police drama "Life" (NBC, 2007-09) shortly before its cancellation, and her next effort, the science fiction thriller "FlashForward" (ABC, 2009), lasted only a single season. Undaunted, Union forged ahead with character roles, including a critically acclaimed turn as bluesman Muddy Waters' wife, Geneva Wade, in "Cadillac Records" (2008), and supporting performances in Tyler Perry's "Good Deeds" (2012), the big-screen adaptation of comic Steve Harvey's advice book "Think Like a Man" (2012) and Chris Rock's "Top Five" (2014). She also made her debut as both producer and star on the BET series "Being Mary Jane." The drama, about a successful TV anchor's pursuit of personal and professional happiness, was a ratings hit and earned Union three NAACP Image Award Nominations, including a win in 2014. The success of the series helped to remind audiences and executives alike of Union's talent, and she soon settled into a busy schedule of features and television. The former included Nate Parker's controversial "Birth of a Nation" (2016) and a rare starring turn as a mother defending her children against home invaders in the hit "Breaking In" (2018), which she also produced. In the latter capacity, Union reprised her "Bad Boys II" role for "L.A.'s Finest" (Spectrum Originals, 2019- ), which promoted her character to police detective and partnered her with Jessica Alba. While working on the series, Union also served as a judge on the fourteenth season of the reality competition series "America's Got Talent" (NBC, 2007- ). Controversy erupted in November 2019 when it was announced that Union was fired from the series after a single season: reports quickly revealed that Union had complained about what she considered a toxic work environment, including meddling by producers, a racist joke by guest judge Jay Leno, and series creator Simon Cowell constantly smoking inside the studio building in defiance of California law.