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Gabrielle Monique Union
October 29, 1972
Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.
|Education||University of California, Los Angeles (BS)|
(m. 2001; div. 2006)
Gabrielle Monique Union-Wade (née Union; born October 29, 1972) is an American actress. Her career began in the 1990s, when she made dozens of appearances on television sitcoms, prior to landing supporting roles in 1999 teen films She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You. She rose to greater prominence the following year, after she starred in the romantic sports drama film Love & Basketball, and landed her breakthrough role in the 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 the lead character in BET drama series Being Mary Jane, for which she has received an NAACP Image Award. Additionally, she co-starred in the 2016 film The Birth of a Nation, and also appeared in Almost Christmas (2016) and Sleepless (2017).
Outside of acting, Union has written four books: two memoirs, titled We’re Going to Need More Wine (2017) and You Got Anything Stronger? (2021), and two children’s books, titled 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.
Union was born on 29 October 1972 in Omaha, Nebraska, the daughter of Theresa (née Glass), a phone company manager and social worker, and Sylvester E. Union, a military sergeant. She was raised Catholic. 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.” 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, where she attended Foothill High School.
Union’s parents divorced after 30 years of marriage. She 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.”
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.” 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.”
Union has said her personality as a young person was “mean” until her fitness trainer A.J. Johnson confronted her over the behavior during a party the two were attending.
During the summer before starting her sophomore year of college at UCLA, at the age of 19, Union was attacked and raped at gunpoint at her part-time job at a Payless shoe store by a robber. 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. 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.
Union has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from UCLA.
Union started her acting career with minor roles. Her first audition was for Saved by the Bell. 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 Moesha as Ashli, 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.
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. 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.” 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. Union’s role in the film was met with praise, with Dustin Putman of All-Reviews.com writing that she was “the star attraction, and the number-one reason to even consider seeing the film.” Union drew influence from her father for the “stern” look she had in the film, admitting that she had stolen it from him.
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. 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. 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”. 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. 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. In 2006, she starred in the music video for Busta Rhymes‘ “I Love My Bitch“.
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. Before working with Perry, she went to see his stage show to both understand him and his audience. She filmed Daddy’s Little Girls in mid-2006 in Atlanta, Georgia. Union was praised for her character’s portrayal and for having a “great sense of comedic timing”. 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. Union starred with Morris Chestnut 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. 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.
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.” Moreover, although she often plays weak, insecure characters, Union believes that “Hollywood needs to recognize all shades of African-American beauty.”
In 2008, Union appeared on Ugly Betty for three episodes as Renee, Wilhelmina Slater‘s sister and Daniel Meade‘s love interest. She also made a cameo appearance in the music video for Ne-Yo‘s “Miss Independent“. Union appeared in the 2008 film Cadillac Records. She was reported to have signed on to the film in March 2008. She portrayed Geneva Wade, who later married Muddy Waters. 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. Union later called taking the role of Geneva Wade in the film the best business decision she had ever made. Union appeared in the 2008 film Meet Dave, playing the love interest of the title character. Union said the film was a gift. That same year, she wrote the foreword for Hill Harper‘s Letters to a Young Sister: DeFINE your Destiny. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
In January 2012, Union was announced to be a participant in Bounce TV’s documentary Our History. In 2012, she played Natalie in the romantic comedy Good Deeds, playing the fiancée of the Wesley Deeds character. Union said that after she read the script, she became interested in working with Tyler Perry again and enjoyed working with the cast. She then appeared in Steve Harvey‘s film Think Like a Man. Union related to her character for having married and divorced young. She and Meagan Good were seen as having taken advantage of their “straightforward characters to add spots of comic zest as well.” 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. Union saw In Our Nature as a personal victory for her career.
In 2013, she began starring in the BET network show Being Mary Jane. Union learned of the series while auditioning for Scandal for the role of Olivia Pope, which ultimately went to Kerry Washington. 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.” Union was impressed with the show’s quality and professionalism. Also in 2013, Union starred in Ava DuVernay‘s short film The Door as part of Miu Miu‘s Women’s Tales campaign.
Union reprised her role as Kristen in Think Like a Man Too in 2014, but it received mostly negative reviews. She believed the film would do well 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”. Union was announced in July 2014 as a producer in the Lifetime film With This Ring. 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. 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. 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. 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.”
In 2017, Union launched Flawless by Gabrielle Union, a line of hair-care products that catered to people with textured hair. In September 2017, Union announced a collaborative partnership with Invicta Watch Group that included a line of watches she designed.
In 2019, Union began starring as Syd Burnett in the Bad Boys spin-off L.A.’s Finest, a Charter Spectrum original series that premiered May 13  and was later renewed for a second season. Union was also a judge for the fourteenth season of America’s Got Talent. But in November 2019 the show failed to renew her contract for another season, allegedly because she spoke out against racism. Union’s fellow America’s Got Talent judge Julianne Hough‘s contract was also not renewed. In May 2020, Union filed a discrimination suit against the producers of America’s Got Talent, citing racism and prejudice.
On Disney Investor Day, December 11, 2020, it was announced that Union would be starring with Zach Braff in a remake of Cheaper by the Dozen, which was released in March 2022. 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”.
In March 2022, she was cast as the lead for the third season of Truth Be Told on Apple TV+.
Books In April 2017, Union announced her first book, a memoir titled 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.” Union described the book as “the good, the bad, and the WTF.” The book was published by Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, on October 17, 2017. In December 2017, it was named a “Best Book of the Year by a Black Author” by The Root magazine.
In May 2020, Union released her first children’s book, Welcome to the Party, an ode to newborns and non-traditional families that was inspired by her daughter. She collaborated with her husband Dwyane Wade on a second children’s book, Shady Baby, published on May 18, 2021. On September 14, 2021, she released a second memoir, You Got Anything Stronger?: Stories.
Other commercial projects
Union became a spokeswoman for Neutrogena in 2004. In 2010 she launched Love & Blessings, a clothing line for plus-sized women that was inspired by her full-figured sister. In March 2014, she released her first wine, Vanilla Puddin’, and in November of that year became the first celebrity ambassador and creative advisor for the nail polish company SensatioNail.
In 2020, Union relaunched her haircare brand, Flawless, for women with textured hair. The collection is affordably priced and “empowers consumers to customize a regimen specific to their texture and style preference.” In that same year she joined Bitsy’s as a cofounder with “the goal of making allergen-friendly, school-safe snacks that are accessible and affordable for all families regardless of their socioeconomic or geographic status.”
Union is an advocate for survivors of assault and has voiced her support for Jada, a Texas teenager who was sexually assaulted while passed out during a party. The assault, which was filmed and posted online, was mocked by others on social networking websites.
Union has also spoken about the importance of therapy, and how she herself was able to quickly find therapy with the help of family members and co-workers.
Union addressed the killing of Trayvon Martin, stating that “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.” 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. 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.”
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”.
When Tanganyika Williams, the aunt of NBA player Matt Barnes, was murdered on July 8, 2014, Union posted calls on both Instagram and Twitter for anyone with information on Tanganyika’s killer to report it to authorities.
Oprah Winfrey said she was inspired by Union’s “Fierce and Fearless Award” acceptance speech, in which Union admitted she once reveled “in gossip and rumors,” because she’d “never heard anyone be that honest in public or private about the competition and fierce drive to be seen and succeed in Hollywood.”
In February 2012, Union was identified as a suspicious person by airport security and subjected to a “hair patdown.” She tweeted a joke about the experience: “Hopefully my weave doesn’t cause turbulence. It’s clearly very powerful.”
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. 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.
Union is an Ambassador in Susan G. Komen for the Cure‘s Circle of Promise. 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.
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.
In 2008, Union supported Barack Obama in his presidential campaign. 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. Obama contacted her specifically after learning that the pilot had fallen through. Union participated in the Obama campaign’s “Greater Together” initiative as part of his re-election campaign in 2012. 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.
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. She was named in the 2020 Time 100 list of most influential people. In the lead up to the 2020 presidential election, the actress encouraged Facebook users to make sure they had everything they needed to make their vote count by seeking out VoteRiders.
Union met NFL player Chris Howard at a party in 1999. They married on May 5, 2001, and separated in October 2005. The divorce was finalized in 2006. 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.” 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”. 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”.
In 2008, Union began dating NBA player Dwyane Wade. They married on August 30, 2014, in Miami, Florida, and she became a stepmother to his three children. Union stated in an interview prior to the marriage that she and Wade would be signing a prenuptial agreement to protect their individual assets. Union and Wade spent their honeymoon in the Maldives and Tanzania. On November 7, 2018, they welcomed their daughter, Kaavia, who was born via surrogate.
Awards and nominations Union
|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|
|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|
|The Honeymooners||Alice Kramden|
|Say Uncle||Elise Carter|
|2006||Running with Scissors||Dorothy Ambrose|
|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|
|In Our Nature||Vicki|
|Half the Sky||Herself||Documentary|
|2013||Miss Dial||Long Story Caller|
|2014||Think Like a Man Too||Kristen|
|Top Five||Erica Long|
|2016||The Birth of a Nation||Esther|||
|Almost Christmas||Rachel Meyers|||
|2018||The Public||Rebecca Parks|
|Breaking In||Shaun Russell|
|2020||Fearless||General Jayne Nadia Blazerhatch (voice)|
|2022||Cheaper by the Dozen||Zoey Baker|
|The Inspection||Inez French|
|Strange World||Meridian Clade (voice)|||
|TBA||The Perfect Find||Jenna Jones||Post-production|
|1993||Family Matters||Mall Girl||Episode: “Scenes from a Mall”|
|1995||Saved by the Bell: The New Class||Hilary||Episode: “The Christmas Gift”|
|Malibu Shores||Shannon Everette||Episode: “The Competitive Edge”|
|Saved by the Bell: The New Class||Jennifer||Episode: “The Tall and the Short of It”|
|Goode Behavior||Tracy Monaghan||Recurring cast|
|Jungle Cubs||Sydney (voice)||Episode: “Splendor in the Mud”|
|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“|
|Jungle Cubs||Sydney (voice)||Episode: “Kasaba Ball/Trunks for the Memories”|
|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”|
|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|
|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 & The Facts of Life“|
|1999||“15 Minutes”||Marc Nelson|
|2003||“Paradise“||LL Cool J featuring Amerie|||
|2006||“I Love My Bitch“||Busta Rhymes featuring will.i.am and Kelis|||