Plenty of us remember the moment in which we fell in love with Gabrielle Union. For me, it was this: “I know you can be overwhelmed, and you can be underwhelmed, but can you ever just be whelmed?” (“I think you can in Europe!” responds Larisa Oleynick — yes it’s a scene from 1999’s 10 Things I Hate About You and yes it’s the absolute greatest.) But maybe your moment was Bring it On, or Deliver Us from Eva. Or maybe it was watching Union on L.A.’s Finest this year, or applauding as she and husband Dwyane Wade spoke out to support Wade’s transgender daughter Zaya, or watching in admiration as this #couplegoals pair continues to use their platforms to fight racism and inequality in this country and give back to the communities that brought them where they are.
Which is precisely why they’ve teamed up with Amazon in this strange, often sad season that is the mid-pandemic holidays of 2020. Union and Wade are working with Amazon’s Delivering Smiles to donate essentials to local nonprofits in the cities they love — all in support of individuals who have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 crisis and its effects.
That said, giving back is far from the only thing keeping Union busy these holidays. The actor, philanthropist, new-ish mom (of badass #ShadyBaby Kaavia James Wade) and seasoned albeit self-proclaimed “psychotic” stepmom to Wade’s other three kids, Union is doing it all — and yet managing to keep it real, a credit to her honesty and self-examination as well as her empathy towards others.
We sat down with Union this week to get all the updates: career, quarantine, Kaavia, and much more. Oh, and Union does have a message for my mom in particular, so Mom: I hope you’ve got your reading glasses on!
SheKnows: The holidays of 2020 are like no other year. How is your family managing this weird year?
Gabrielle Union: Day by day. There has only been one major meltdown today, and it wasn’t the kids; it was me. I needed to read this thing aloud, and I was just stumbling over my words, and I had a short window — and I lost it a little bit. There were a lot of cuss words and screaming. You know when your body betrays you? I needed my brain and my vocal cords and mouth to work together — but I only got, like, one out of three.
SK: Been there! Tell me about your holiday plans this year with your family.
GU: Normally, the Wade Family Foundation, we do all sorts of things across the country in the towns we live in or in our hometowns to give back. We like to have roots in the crowd, have that contact face-to-face — so this year, we were like, we still want to give back but we need to figure out how to do it safely. This partnership with Amazon, Delivering Smiles, made it a lot safer and eliminated a lot of waste. Because a lot of times, you send things to charities that they don’t actually need. So we looked at 1,000 charities worldwide and put together a list that they actually need, and have that delivered right to their door.
Both me and my husband, we try to chase organizations in our hometowns as well as L.A., Miami, Milwaukee where my husband went to college. Those cities are near and dear to our hearts — those cities that birthed us and provided care and healthcare when we needed it. We’ve chosen multiple orgs that work with women, that center women dealing with homelessness and domestic violence and things that have contributed to housing insecurity, food insecurity. They’re helping provide a safe, protective space.
SK: Exactly. For example, you’re helping the Women’s Center for Advancement in Omaha, which does fantastic work with women. I’m familiar with them because my mom is from Omaha, like you.
GA: Oh awesome! Whenever hear other people are from Nebraska, I’m like, yes — if your mom wants to hit me up, we can discuss all things cornhusker. We won this weekend!
SK: Haha watch out because Mom will take you up on that. Speaking of family, you and Dwyane have a beautiful blended gang; how do you manage coparenting through the holidays? I need tips!
GA: It’s not just the holidays, but it’s understanding around the fact that, in certain ways, emotions will be heightened. We want to take everything personally, everything is somehow a personal attack on us — rather than, at the end of the day, we are all struggling in one way or another, in ways that are seen and unseen. As long as we put the kids first, and don’t include them in adult feelings and anger, as long as we center their peace — that is the best co-parenting tip I can give. And I know it’s hard. I know there are a lot of hurt feelings and unresolved things the adults are dealing with, or not, but never put that on the kids, and certainly not when everyone is feeling “a certain kind of way,” as the kids say. Make sure the kids have peace, and you’ll be set.
SK: Amen. So, your daughter’s Instagram account is epic. Does she really make those amazing faces all the time, or do you just catch them when she does?
GU: ALL THE TIME. She’s making those faces all of the time. We have a few people quarantining with us, and someone is always documenting her because we will be laughing at Kaav videos until 3 a.m. — she is unfiltered and unbothered! That is all her. I just make the captions. I made the decision to share her with the world because I’ve shared so much of my pain of the journey of her, to having her be a part of her lives; I need the balance of, I shared so much heartbreak and so much misery. And she’s brought so much hope and inspiration for those of us who have had a different journey towards family. We also had to make sure our security experts and our therapist and childcare providers agreed: Does sharing her life, are we able to keep her and keep us safe? So after we heard from all our professionals we felt safe and confident to share. And if that changes, we won’t share. There’s no right or wrong way; you just have to figure out what works best for your family.
SK: You and Dwyane are phenomenal supports of Zaya. How are you feeling about how things are changing for trans and gender non-conforming kids right now?
GU: After the election, we saw more Americans want to be on the right side of history and want to project the rights and safety of marginalized folks; that inspires hope. And then you turn on the news and realize there are over 70 million people who had no problem with … people wanting to take away the rights and protections of marginalized folks, and it scares you. Out of 70 million, those are your neighbors … people you see every day who are just OK with racism and dozens of credible accusations of sexual violence and xenophobia and anti-LGBTQ [stances]. That is terrifying, and that makes you put your head down and get back to work. There’s a lot of work to go around, and we need all hands on deck. We are the cavalry we’ve been waiting for.
SK: Absolutely, we are who we need to enact change. So one thing I’m wondering before we close: Of all the past projects you’ve worked on, is there one you’d love to reboot? (I admit I want you to say 10 Things I Hate About You but I will accept other answers!)
GU: Oh gosh, well they are doing a reboot of 10 Things, and of She’s All That — they beat me to the punch there! There have been reboots and sequels of Bring it On, but not of the original cast, and that’s something that me and Kirsten (Dunst) and Peyton (Reed) are working on that I’m excited about. Like did those characters grow up to become Dallas Cowboys cheerladers? Are they PTA moms together? That would be a fun reboot to do — and perhaps will come true.
SK: Oh man, I hope so! Thank you so much for chatting with me today.
GU: Of course! And tell your mom: Go Big Red!
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.