Gabrielle Union Regrets 'Putting a Muzzle' on Her 'Bring It On' Character

"I didn't give her a full voice," says Gabrielle Union of her Bring It On character Isis

Gabrielle Union's character Isis from 2000's hit cheerleader movie Bring It On has been a fan favorite for decades, but the actress says she has a complicated relationship with the role that helped make her a star.

"I was given carte blanche to create Isis from the ground up," Union, 48, tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "And what I did was put a muzzle on her."

In her new memoir, You Got Anything Stronger?, available now, Union writes about landing the role of Isis and then working with writers to shape the character — the way she thought, acted and spoke. In the film, Kirsten Dunst's character Torrance Shipman leads a cheerleading squad that had been stealing routines from Isis' East Compton high school team.

In confronting Dunst's character, Union says she wanted Isis "to offer grace." "I thought that was being the bigger person," she says. "But instead, I wasn't giving full voice to the frustration and harm that cultural appropriation causes. I didn't allow her to be as angry and disappointed and frustrated as she should have been."

For more about Union and her new memoir, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday.

bring it on

In the end, Isis' Clovers team bests Shipman's Toros in a competition and again, "I leaned into this whole gracious winner thing," says Union. "A young Black girl should have said, 'Yeah you stole our routines and when you were forced to come up with your own, you weren't good enough. But I didn't give her a full voice."

Now, despite the enduring success of the film, "I have to acknowledge and be accountable for letting [Isis] down and letting myself down and letting down the audience," says Union.

"I wanted to make her acceptable and all of the things I thought she needed to be to be a respectable Black leader. It's the constant shape shifting to appeal to folks' comfort that never even considered yours."

Today, Union has a different mission in her life and in raising her children: "Stop shape-shifting," she says. "It's about unlearning and divesting from the systems of institutions that have left us feeling small and scared. Be exactly who you are."

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