Unbeknownst to the world, Jada Pinkett Smith and Gabrielle Union didn’t get along for almost two decades. They barely even talked to each other during that period. But eventually they decided to come together on Smith’s show Red Table Talk to hash out their differences. And Union is now airing her feelings on the matter.
Smith and Union kept their feud out of the media for many years, however. And it was Smith herself who eventually brought it into the spotlight. In April 2018 she went on the promotional rounds for Red Table Talk and told Extra that she and Union “haven’t been on the best of terms for 17 years.” There would be an episode with her, Smith promised.
The media naturally speculated as to what had caused the falling out. For example, the website Gossip in the City suggested it might have been to do with Smith’s famous husband, A-list actor Will Smith. He worked with Union on the film Bad Boys II in 2003 – and allegedly hit things off so well with her that it angered his wife.
Some outlets praised Smith and Union for not making their feud public until a great deal of time had passed. “Both women are class acts who know better than to damage each other’s reputations for no good reason,” read a May 2018 piece on the website Cheat Sheet. “Rather than gossip, they remained dignified and kept their drama to themselves.”
Union also confirmed the falling-out when she was interviewed on Today not long afterwards. “Jada nor I ever used the word feud,” she explained. “Back in the day, neither one of us knew originally what took place back then. But the people that we had around us were like, ‘Well, you know how she feels about you.’”
“And then it was like, ‘Okay, girl, bye’ for 17 years,” Union added. “And even though we’re both very outspoken women, we’re both activists, our husbands are friends, we both felt we had too much pride and too much insecurities to actually say, ‘Hey, did that ever happen or was that a creation of someone else who did not want to see two women rise together?’”
So, what revelations would come to light when Union appeared on Red Table Talk with Smith? The episode finally aired on May 28, 2018. It began with Smith’s mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris, talking about how she was a big Gabrielle Union fan. Smith then explained, “This is our girlfriend-relationships show.”
Smith explained the premise of the episode and delved into why she’d invited someone she was feuding with onto the show. “Gabrielle Union just kept coming into my mind. And I was like, Gabrielle, me and Gabrielle don’t speak!” she said. “Gabrielle and I were never really girlfriends, we were great associates that at some point dissolved.”
“For 17 years, we have not really spoken,” Smith said of herself and Union. Her mother then interjected, “You don’t even know what you’re mad about!” Smith subsequently mused over the nature of female relationships and how after falling out “sometimes you reunite with them and sometimes you don’t.”
Things went off to a good start when Union arrived on the Red Table Talk set. She and Smith hugged and said hi, as did Banfield-Norris. “This is a very special show for me, because what I decided to do was make this about creating a new girlfriend,” Smith announced once they’d all sat down.
“Gab and I, we had a bit of a break, we don’t know how,” Smith explained to her audience. “And she’s been open to this healing, she’s been open to this conversation.” Smith then addressed Union herself, saying, “It felt so good on the phone with you to even just go, ‘Hey, I’m sorry that I didn’t even take the time to talk to you,’ you know?”
Moreover, Smith seemed to indicate that the feud, whatever it had entailed, was largely down to her own actions. “I had to just apologize and just thinking to myself, ‘Damn, Jada! That was some petty ass s**t!’” Smith said. “But at the same time going, ‘Well, that’s where you were then. Thank God you’re someplace else now.’”
Union then spoke about what she, too, might have done differently. “I could have been like, ‘Okay, I know this is super uncomfortable, but I’ma hop in your face and we’re gonna talk,’” Union said. But she hadn’t done so. “You think, it’s not going to affect my life… but your brain keeps going back there,” she added.
“Every time we would see each other, we were always cordial and always nice,” Smith explained. “But there was always tension.” And Union reminisced, “I think it was last year, me and my friend were leaving the White House… and you were walking in. There was the moment of ‘Do I hug her?’”
“It’s not even about being the best of friends or the best girlfriends or what have you,” Smith mused. “Just simple consideration and respect and knowing we’re in this together.” And she went on to tell her fellow actress just how powerful she’d found a recent Essence speech by Union.
Union had given the speech in 2013. In it, she said, “I used to shrink in the presence of other dope beautiful women. I used to revel in gossip and rumors, and I lived for the negativity inflicted upon my sister actresses or anyone who I felt whose shine diminished my own… Real fearless and fierce women admit mistakes and they work to correct them.”
“So many of us in this room are sisters. We don’t always get to see each other and it’s good to see you here today,” Union continued. “Women who we’ve laughed with, cried with, and struggled with, thank you for not turning your back on me, thank you for not tap dancing on my misery, even when I wasn’t always returning the favor.”
Smith heard the speech, and she told Union, “I listened to you speak and I’m like, ‘Gab’s on a path, she’s figuring it out, she’s in a process.’ So I really wanna know, what was that moment for you, when you realized ‘Okay, enough is enough?’” Union replied, “I had to hit rock bottom. I had to lose everything.”
Union went on to detail all the events in her life which had seen her reach that point. “For me, that was my first marriage, going through the divorce process. I lost my show, my show was cancelled, and I was having difficult relationships with my BFFs,” she said. “And it was everyone’s fault but my own.”
Union subsequently began taking advice from actress and life coach A.J. Johnson. Whenever she started trashing other women, Johnson would call her out. Union said Johnson once told her, “What did you accomplish by tearing that woman down? All you did was reveal to everyone at this party what low self-esteem you have.”
“That’s what it took,” Union added. “It was harsh in the moment, but it was like, ‘Damn, I have been communicating through negativity. I’ve been shrinking other people, hoping that I’m growing.’… It’s ugly, it’s hard, it’s painful, to recognize that you are the common denominator for the vast majority of your problems.”
Smith answered with, “We’ve all been there. Someone comes along and we feel threatened… and we feel we have to shrink somebody else down in order to feel bigger. I have had so much revelation in just the idea of what it takes to connect to other women, and what creates within us the inability to do that.”
Later on, the two women discussed other aspects of their lives. “There are some ‘girlfriends’ – I’ll use finger quotes – who want to squash you,” Union said. “The goal isn’t to watch you evolve, the goal is to watch you be miserable. And there is something that is appealing about your misery to them.”
“And then there are the real girlfriends, who can be honest in a loving way, because the goal isn’t to squash you, the goal is to watch you evolve into the woman that you actually want to be,” Union continued. “But we also have to be in the space of receiving it in that way.” Smith agreed.
Smith then talked about how the concept of victimhood connected with these issues. “What it was for me was to be ready to receive someone looking at me and going, ‘Nah, you’re better than that.’ And I realized in my life, I just was not willing to have that,” Smith said. “It came out of fear. Because you know if you take all of that, then we have to be responsible for it. No, no, no, I’d rather play victim.”
Union picked up on this theme. “I call it the cloak of victimhood,” she explained. “And we don’t want to take it off, it’s like a snuggy…. And people will let you be a victim for your entire life. And you wake up and you’re 70 and it’s like, ‘Well, it’s been great.’… People will let you be there because ‘victim’ is also comfortable for everybody else.”
The two women then talked about friendship. Smith asked Union, “In this process of growth, there have been friends of mine who have kind of fallen off. So have you found that?” Union certainly had. While laughing, she said, “I have zero regrets… I’ll be over here, living my best life and enjoying who I really am.”
Towards the end of the interview, Smith said to Union, “Like I told you on the phone, this is my year of growth. I’m really in my life just clearing up a lot – you were one of them. Having this moment with you is helping me in that process.” Union replied, “It was like a gorilla hopped off my back. I didn’t even know it was there. And I needed that, I needed you.”
The two women then held hands across the table and thanked each other. “This has been beautiful,” Smith said. “I hope from here on out we have a bond and you know you can call on me for anything. And thank you for just being open to this.” She turned to the audience and added, “And thank you guys for being here with us at the red table.”
The episode subsequently garnered lots of positive comments on Facebook. An appreciative viewer wrote, “I’m currently on a journey of self care and healing. I know that there’s a few relationships that I need to attempt to repair and this is helpful to see it happening because it’s really scary. Thank you for this.”
Another fan commented, “That was an amazing talk… I can actually see myself in this conversation, and I am going to work on certain issues with my personality and learning how to enjoy my own space. Thank you, Jada for the red table and its ability to heal where we didn’t know or won’t acknowledge that we need healing.”
Later on that week, Smith spoke about Union again on Red Table Talk. She pondered whether she’d been the one who’d driven them apart initially. Talking to Karynne Tencer and Mia Pitts, Smith said, “I think who I was back then was a young, egotistical girl who basically was just like, ‘OK, if she wants to have a problem with me that’s fine, ’cause what difference does it make?’”
Smith had more to say regarding the reunion. “One of the points that Gab brought up is that it makes a big difference because at the end of the day, there’s only a handful of us in this business,” she recalled. “And I just think we grow older and we mature and we realize that we really can’t appreciate yourself without appreciating other women.”
Moreover, Two months after Union’s Red Table Talk episode, she talked about the experience to Yahoo! Entertainment. “I think, a lot of times, when you’re just not speaking to someone, one day turns into a week, turns into a month, turns into years,” Union said. “And the next thing you know, years have gone by, and there’s dope people that could have been in your life that aren’t for no reason, silly reasons, or reasons that really need to be addressed.”
“For a lot of us, it’s easier to just not say anything and ignore it. And our episode was about, like, let’s get to it,” the Being Mary Jane actress continued. “Let’s not eliminate dope people from our lives because of our own whatever it is… hang-ups or obstacles, in getting out of own way.”
Union also sang the praises of her new friend Smith in the Yahoo! Entertainment interview. “She’s so dope and powerful,” Union said. “She’s such an advocate for women, and she does so much for women. We just moved, but they lived close, and we could have been slaying dragons together all this time.”
“Better late than never, because, I think, now that the two of us are in sync and together,” Union added. “And there is so much work to do in fighting for equality and all of the things that are important to us, it’s better to have as many hands on deck, all on the same page, than trying to slay these dragons individually.”
And a year down the line, things are still going well. In May 2019 Union went on Watch What Happens Live and a caller asked her, “I’m curious, Gabi, how has your relationship with Jada Pinkett Smith changed since you were on Red Table Talk to break down your silent feud?” Union had a positive answer.
“We definitely text a lot more,” Union replied. “It’s great, thank God. It was such a dumb, silly thing that just kept going – just because that’s life and we live on separate coasts. She’s awesome. She’s amazing. I didn’t even know that she is an artist – she is an amazing artist, so I’m trying to hoard all of her artwork. She’s a very good time and I enjoy her.”
And Union definitely is no longer – in her own harsh words – a person who “shrink[s] in the presence of other dope beautiful women.” Currently she’s starring in L.A.’s Finest alongside Jessica Alba. When she did her Yahoo! Entertainment interview, Union said she and Alba were “both chicks who like to watch other chicks shine.” She could have been talking about Smith, too.