The NBC talent competition show opened Tuesday's episode by displaying the definition of "courage"

By Aurelie Corinthios
June 03, 2020 11:42 AM
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America's Got Talent Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum, Terry Crews, Sofia Vergara, Simon Cowell
America's Got Talent season 15
| Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

This week's episode of America's Got Talent made note of the nationwide unrest and turmoil in the wake of George Floyd's death.

Tuesday's broadcast of NBC talent competition show came amid ongoing protests against police brutality and systemic racism sparked by Floyd, an unarmed black man killed in Minneapolis police custody last week. The episode opened with a display defining the word "courage": "The quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, without fear; persevere."

According to TooFab, NBC also aired the following statement several times during the episode: "We stand together in outrage against acts of racism," and kicked off the second half of the show with a separate statement on behalf of AGT: "We stand together in outrage over acts of racism and injustice. America's Got Talent would like to use our platform to share a message of hope, and we will continue to tell stories that need to be told."

The series, currently in its 15th season, is hosted by Terry Crews. This season features judges Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, Heidi Klum and newcomer Sofia Vergara.

Vergara and Klum, who was also a judge during seasons 8-13, joined the panel after Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough's exits last year after one season.

News of their exits broke in November, when a report by Variety claimed that Union, 47, had expressed concerns over alleged racial insensitivity on set, and that both women said they were subjected to "excessive notes" on their physical appearance. (In a statement at the time, Hough, 31, denied that she had a negative experience on the show.)

Last month, in an interview with Variety, Union opened up for the first time about the show's "toxic work environment," which she said included witnessing Cowell smoking on set; an alleged racist joke made by guest judge Jay Leno; and an incident involving a white male contestant who was cleared to proceed with an act in which he put on black gloves to represent a black performer. (Cowell told Variety through a spokesperson that "when he was directly informed of the smoking complaint during the first couple of days of the season, he immediately changed his behavior and the issue was never raised again," and Leno declined to comment.)

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Union said she felt compelled to speak out in an attempt to create a more inclusive Hollywood.

"If I can't speak out with the privilege that I have, and the benefits that my husband and I have, what is the point of making it?" she told Variety. "What is the point of having a seat at the table and protecting your privilege when you're not doing s--- to help other people?"

Union and Hough's exits from the show launched an internal investigation of NBC and production companies Fremantle and Syco Entertainment. In a statement to PEOPLE last week, Fremantle, Syco and NBC said they took Union's concerns "extremely seriously" and "engaged an outside investigator who conducted more than 30 interviews to review the issues raised by Ms. Union."

"While the investigation has demonstrated an overall culture of diversity, it has also highlighted some areas in which reporting processes could be improved," the statement continued.

The statement also denied Variety's reporting that Union's rotating hairstyles were labeled by production as "too black" for mass audiences.

"Through the investigation process, it has been revealed that no one associated with the show made any insensitive or derogatory remarks about Ms. Union's appearance, and that neither race nor gender was a contributing factor in the advancement or elimination of contestants at any time. The investigation has shown that the concerns raised by Ms. Union had no bearing on the decision not to exercise the option on her contract."

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"NBC, Fremantle and Syco share Ms. Union's dedication to diversity and inclusion in the industry," the statement concluded. "We continue to remain committed to having an inclusive environment for everyone associated with the show, and to upholding AGT as one of the most diverse programs on television."

America's Got Talent airs Tuesdays (8 p.m. ET) on NBC.

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

  • Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
  • ColorofChange.org works to make government more responsive to racial disparities.
  • National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.