Hey, Hollywood! You want to continue with the lazy Black stereotypes? Well, bring it on—because folks like Gabrielle Union will call you out for it and make sure it’s changed.
In a recent interview with Vogue, Union reflected on her experience on the set of Bring It On, where she played the iconic head cheerleader of the Clovers, Isis. Specifically, she gave insight into how the character was originally written and what she did to change that. The film was originally called Cheer Fever and when Union sat down for a table read, she noticed the script was “cringe-y.”
“She was like a bad stereotype,” Union recounted. “There was a line in the original script that was like, ‘Meow! Me-gonna-ow you! My nails are long, sharp, and ready to slash!’…Huh? And that girl ends up at U.C. Berkeley? How did girls from Compton talk in their minds? How about we make her a very clear leader where her path to cheer justice is done with more class and dignity but also justifiable anger. She doesn’t need to speak in made-up, Blaxploitation dialogue.”
“Justifiable anger” is the perfect phrase to describe the depth of Isis’ character. It was easy to make her a one-dimensional “angry Black woman” trope, but through Union’s performance and persistence, Isis became a fully fleshed out Black teen who had every reason to be angry. She became a representation of the very anti-cultural appropriation we’re continuously fighting for today.
As fellow Entertainment Writer J’na Jefferson recently wrote in an essay at The Root to celebrate the film’s 20th anniversary:
As Isis recognized and many unfortunately still need to learn, the issue of white guilt doesn’t start and end with recognizing the presence of white privilege. Rectifying centuries of racial and cultural misconduct is a lot more time-consuming than whipping out a checkbook, apologizing to Black friends, or posting a black square on Instagram. It requires education, it requires listening, and above all, it requires accountability of the self and of one’s peers.
Alas, Union has always been about that accountability life, so she most certainly spoke up and contributed to making Isis a more authentic character. In fact, the film’s director Peyton Reed has said that the two had initial discussions about Isis and Union had “found what was cool about that character in ways few actresses could.” Makes sense! Like, I know you don’t think [white Hollywood] made that shit up! *wink*
“Well, when we started filming, the script was in flux,” Union added. “I was talking to Peyton the other day and he said, ‘Do you remember when we brought in Gary Hardwick to rewrite some of the Clovers’ dialogue?’ I didn’t remember that, but it made sense. I ended up doing The Brothers and Deliver Us From Eva with Gary, so I knew he and Peyton were cool. I just remember Peyton would be in my trailer before every scene, going, ‘What would Isis say here?’ We kind of rewrote it as we went along, but the credited screenwriters were not a part of that dialogue. The shooting script was not what ended up onscreen.”
Join the discussion! The Root is hosting its first-ever, virtual Root Institute, presented by Target, featuring several of the leading minds in our community talking about politics, culture, health, community building and social impact. Subscribe for updates today!