NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” has been in a media firestorm ever since Gabrielle Union was fired. Allegedly, she was axed from the show for speaking out about racism and sexism on the set. One of the incidents named was Jay Leno‘s racist jokes toward Asians, which the Hollywood veteran reportedly called out.
Leno is now responding to the fracas by referring to Union, a 47-year-old mother and wife, as a “girl.”
Leno, 69, told TMZ, “I love Gabrielle Union, she’s a great girl. I really enjoyed working with her, she’s really good.” When asked if he thinks she was treated fairly, Leno replied with, “I don’t know, but I think she’s a great girl.”
Leno also dodged acknowledging a joke about Asians and whether he thought it was a mistake.
Leno may not know (or maybe he does) that referring to a grown Black woman as a “girl” is offensive. After all, Black men and women were often derogatorily called boy and girl, respectively, by whites during slavery, Jim Crow and sometimes even today.
In case you missed it, during a taping in April of this year, Leno reportedly joked about a painting showing Simon Cowell, the show’s executive producer and judge, surrounded by his dogs. Leno allegedly said that the pets looked like something that would be “on the menu at a Korean restaurant,” Variety reported.
Members of the staff took issue with Leno’s offensive “joke.” According to Variety, there are “very few Asian staffers,” and one of the few were present when Leno said the line during filming.
Union, who was in her first season at “AGT,” pushed for producers to report the joke to human resources at NBC. Insiders said that Union’s argument was to make production aware about the insensitivity of the joke, and why it might offend the staff and audience. The joke being reported to human resources was specifically mentioned to an NBC executive, but sources say the issue was never extended beyond a mere conversation. The joke was eventually cut from the episode when it aired in August.
This isn’t the first time Leno has been called out for insensitive behavior. Back in the early 1990s, Arsenio Hall called out Leno for spreading “racist and insulting” rumor about him (Hall claimed Leno spread a rumor that he was telling Black celebrities to ban Leno’s show).
Comedian George Lopez said Leno thought he was Paul Rodriguez — another Mexican comedian — an told Howard Stern in 2014, “That m*therf*cker don’t even get his Mexicans straight!”
As for Union, Time’s Up has started a petition to hold NBC accountable.