Gabrielle Union's memoir, We're Going to Need More Wine: Stories That Are Funny, Complicated and True, is more than a collection of amusing essays that shaped the actress' life.
Its pages are a haven.
Because within them there is truth.
And at a time when women's rights — our right to choose whether we want to bear children, our right to earn equal pay, our right to speak up for ourselves — are under fire every single day, it's important that we sit in these truths for a while. It's important that we read them.
Thursday night, we'll have the chance to listen to them. Union will appear at the Free Library of Philadelphia for a book signing question-and-answer session moderated by former Fox 29 reporter Tracey Matisak. Philadelphia is the fourth stop on a 12-city tour that kicked off Monday with a Facebook Live event coinciding with the release of the book, published by Dey Street, an imprint of William Morrow. The Free Library event on the Parkway is free, but it's expected to be packed.
"Writing this book was a part of my therapy," said Union, 44, currently starring in BET's complicated drama Being Mary Jane. The network announced last week it plans to wrap up the show in a two-hour season finale movie in 2018. (Moment of silence here.)
"It was healing for me. It's about reaching my hand out [into] the abyss and saying, 'I'm here. I've been through it all and, you know? I've survived it. So grab on.' "
Part of Union's appeal is that she doesn't shy away from in-your-face authenticity, even when she's recounting some of her most painful experiences. In fact, it's these events that have made her a fearless advocate. For example, part of the reason she's such a staunch supporter of the Susan G. Komen Foundation is because a close friend of hers died of breast cancer. Self-care is so very important.
When Union was 19, she was raped at gunpoint at a Payless ShoeSource store not far from where she grew up in Pleasanton, Calif. That awful moment — which she talks about in great detail in the 262-page book — has moved her to speak out on behalf of women who have been sexually assaulted and harassed. Last year, she wrote a moving op-ed for the Los Angeles Times discussing actor/director Nate Parker's alleged sexual assault. Parker cast Union as Esther in The Birth of a Nation as a woman who doesn't speak, but who was raped.
"My compassion for victims of sexual violence is something that I cannot control. It spills out of me like an instinct rather than a choice. It pushes me to speak when I want to run away from the platform," Union wrote in the L.A. Times piece.
Talk of such attacks have been ratcheted up as of late, thanks largely to the recently published allegations that entertainment mogul Harvey Weinstein is a sexual predator. In the aftermath, Donna Karan stunned many when she said that women should mind how they dress. (She later apologized.) The New York Times published an op-ed by actress Mayim Bialik last weekend in which Bialik clumsily tried to explain why, according to her, she wasn't treated like an object in Hollywood: She isn't a classic beauty, she wrote, and she chooses to dress modestly.
Union let loose a string of about 10 news-making tweets Sunday chastising anyone who thinks women are to blame for being sexually assaulted. Darn her wardrobe choices and double-darn how she talks and walks.
See what I'm saying about truth?
The story of Union's rape is the most emotional part of We're Going to Need More Wine, but it's not the only part that will captivate your attention. Union speaks candidly about growing up in the mostly all-white suburb of Pleasanton during the 1980s and early 1990s and her experience dealing with colorism within the black community. Like me, Union's father is a dark-skinned African American and her mother is very fair. And while all of this seems pretty innocuous, it can be another weapon that chips away at a young woman's sense of inner beauty and outward self-esteem. Is my hair as straight as my mom's? Is my nose too much like my dad's? And there is the fact that no matter how much you really look like your mother, people won't hesitate to flat-out say you don't look like her. And deep down inside, you know what they mean.
It's no wonder I grabbed my wine — Union says tequila is OK, too — curled up, and kept reading. The prose is sprinkled with a couple of expletives, for girlfriend's sake. But considering some of the salacious stories Union tells, the obscenities are paired well with the experiences.
In high school, Union dated former NBA player and current Milwaukee Bucks head coach Jason Kidd, whom she humorously admits to stealing from another young lady. (The girl's best friend effectively put out a hit on her.)
Union's first marriage was to former NFL player Chris Howard, which she describes as a "crash and burn" affair. She met Dwyane Wade at one of Prince's legendary parties, and wed the NBA star in a 2014 fairy-tale wedding. (Their love story is so cute, I actually spent nearly 22 minutes watching their entire wedding video.) She writes about being a stepmother to Wade's three boys — including the one he fathered while on a break with Union. (This is probably the only real-life drama she doesn't directly mention in the book.)
Her marriage led to the next emotional speed bump in her poignant story: trying to get pregnant. Union writes that she spent the first years of it enduring failed cycles of in vitro fertilization. There were eight and almost as many miscarriages. To add insult to injury, Union's character, Mary Jane Paul, is dealing with her own biological clock vs. infertility issues, which Union wasn't aware the character would be tackling when she took the role in 2013.
"I would call it a coincidence," Union said, her voice trailing off. "Going through it was painful and hard. I felt exposed. It was very difficult to be going through it in real life and to try to bring all that energy into the character."
There are uplifting stories, too. Union has learned from her catty mistakes. She's realized that as a woman who has managed to get work in the cutthroat entertainment industry for the better part of 20 years — clearly, she doesn't age — that she has a personal responsibility to mentor younger women. Even those like actress Ryan Destiny, who looks very much like her.
She also tells the story behind her famous "Mean Girl Speech." In 2013, Union won Essence magazine's Fierce and Fearless Award and gave an acceptance speech at the publication's Black Women in Hollywood pre-Oscars luncheon. In the talk, she said she realized that she was a mean girl when she verbally cut down another actress behind her back. She came face to face with her desire to be seen in Hollywood and learned a valuable lesson.
"Being seen and being chosen are two different things," Union said to me. "Being seen for your authentic voice, that provides a level of connection. … I want to be recognized for my value." That realization, Union said, leads to different choices. Choices that will ultimately bring us to being our best selves. And that's the point of this book.
That said, one of the reasons Union is my best friend in my head is because of her on-screen relationship in Being Mary Jane with dreamy actor Michael Ealy.
So I couldn't help but ask this one question that had absolutely nothing to do with the book:
"What is it like to kiss him?" I asked her, nearly breathless.
Union paused before she answered: "I will tell you this: He smells like sugar cookies."