Gabrielle Union is opening up about filming an assault storyline for Apple TV+ series “Truth Be Told.”
Union, who was raped 30 years ago in the Bay Area of California, discussed how she was “triggered” by the anthology series plot. Union stars alongside Octavia Spencer in the thriller, with Spencer playing a reporter who is connected to Union after an epidemic of missing Black girls sparks media attention to human trafficking in Northern California.
“I have the lived experience of being a Black teen experiencing sexual violence in the Bay Area,” Union said during the Television Critics Association panel for the series. “I mean, I’ve been talking about my rape publicly for 25 years. But that’s a first-person account. To fictionalize it, and to figure out a way into the character using my experience, I just didn’t know it was going to happen. It’s my first time really doing that kind of deep, deep work that every day was a trigger.”
Union was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and relocated to Pleasanton, California, when she was in elementary school. She later attended Cuesta College, also in the Bay Area.
She continued, “There are literally locations that are written that I don’t think I can mention, because it might give something away inadvertently, that are literally locations that are a part of my past as it pertains to my rape. Every day was a trigger, and to be triggered for months on end, it literally frazzled me. Everything I have ever used to cope did not work. And what I realized is that in July, it was my 30-year anniversary of my rape. And what I realized is that disassociation is real. As much as I thought that I was present completely, and I knew all the facts, my brain could not allow me to know the facts as a teenager. And every day, it was like my brain kind of pulled back the veil of what really happened, and gave me the full picture.”
Union added, “So, I realized that if I would have known, I just would not have survived it. But through the work, I realized I was raped one time by one person. When you are sexually trafficked, that reality is daily, multiple times at times. There is no escape. And I’m still dealing with this 30 years later, with all the resources, and all the help, and everyone believed me. But when you think about, like, back on that day, when I was just a terrified, beat up, unrecognizable child, they still made me complicit in my own assault. There was the question, asked more than once, ‘What did you have on?'”
The actress-producer addressed the trauma of not being able to have a “lifeline” as a survivor at times.
“When you’re talking about the most marginalized of the marginalized that go missing and get brutalized, and no one gives a shit, literally, what that does to the individual, what that does to the family, what that does to the community..it’s like suspending you in terror,” Union said. “And you’re screaming, and no one cares to throw you a lifeline. So, as I’m trying to process all this in real time, I am, yeah, I don’t really have words just yet.”
The “Bring It On” alum noted that she “saw my therapist a lot” and relied on those closest to her.
“By the end, like Octavia said, because you have to stay in it, by the end, my friends surprised me with a rebirth on the beaches at Malibu, because I had fully seen my former self,” Union said. “And I needed to start over, in truth, complete truth. So, when you talk about how do you heal, what kind of resources do these folks need when they are saved, when you do find them? It’s not one size fits all. And when you’re dealing with Black and Brown children and adults, it’s like people think that we are predisposed to handle pain and abuse well, that we just don’t need the same.”
As for “Truth Be Told,” Union summed up, “Hopefully through our very accurate-but-loving depiction and respectful depiction of the reality of human trafficking, and the immediacy and the urgency, that we are giving people, to help people get on the road to healing, to knowledge of how to save themselves and each other, you know?”
Union shared an Instagram video in June 2022 describing how she has “battled PTSD” for three decades after being sexually assaulted at age 19.
“I share this as I hope everyone living with anxiety knows they aren’t alone or ‘being extra.’ I see you, I FEEL you and there is so much love for you. Always,” Union captioned. “When we tell y’all what we are experiencing, please believe us the 1st time we mention it.”
Additional reporting by Wilson Chapman.