While it is somewhat rare to hear someone ask about your favorite Gabrielle Union performance, there is not a doubt in my mind that anyone given the opportunity would have an answer. Even if you could not immediately put a face to the name, mere seconds after looking up her picture, you would immediately be able to recognize the actress from Bring it On, 2016’s The Birth of a Nation, or, perhaps, her 1997 guest spot on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, to name just a few of her various roles in movies and TV shows.
The 47-year-old actress, producer, and author, born in Omaha, Nebraska, has led a long and eclectic career that dates back to the early ‘90s when the modeling agency she interned for while studying at UCLA took her on as a client. Soon, she entered the world of acting in small TV guest spots before Hollywood began to take notice of her potential as a leading lady in the early 2000s.
To this day, Gabrielle Union is applauded for her strong opinions in social activism, uncompromising honesty about herself, and her talent that serves as an inspiration for young black women with similar aspirations. To celebrate her achievements, we look back on the 10 roles, from the big and small screen alike, that made her the icon she is today, starting with the first role to bring her mainstream success.
Isis (Bring It On)
If there is one movie that deserves to be credited for helping society recognize cheerleading as a sport, it would have be to be this 2000 high school comedy classic from director Peyton Reed that has spawned countless straight-to-video sequels. The titular challenge of Bring It On comes from Gabrielle Union’s Isis, the fierce leader of the East Compton Clovers, whom Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst) discovers her squad, the San Diego Toros, previously stole championship-winning routines from.
Keesha Hamilton (7th Heaven)
Before hitting cinematic success, Gabrielle Union starred in a special 1996 episode from 7th Heaven’s first season as Keesha Hamilton, whose family is invited into the Camdens’ home after a group of racist extremists burn down their church. Union would reprise the role four more times throughout the series’ run in the late ‘90s, particularly as a close friend to sisters Mary (Jessica Biel) and Lucy Camden (Beverley Mitchell).
Chastity Church (10 Things I Hate About You)
One of the earliest and biggest hits of Gabrielle Union’s movie career is this cult favorite that reimagines William Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew as a high school rom-com set in 1999. In 10 Things I Hate About You, Union plays Chastity Church, the best friend of sophomore Bianca Stratford (Laris Oleynik), whose father (Larry Miller) forbids her from dating Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) unless her brazenly independent older sister, Kat (Julia Stiles), a senior, finds a beau. That is where bad boy Patrick Verona (a young Heath Ledger) comes in at Cameron’s request.
Evangeline Dandridge (Deliver Us From Eva)
Believe it or not, 10 Things I Hate About You was only the first remake of The Taming of the Shrew starring Gabrielle Union. The second was this funny and sexy 2003 romantic comedy in which she got to be “the shrew.” Union plays the uptight, meddlesome title character of Deliver Us from Eva, which also stars LL Cool J as a playboy hired by Eva’s brothers-in-law to date her as a distraction from her constant interference in their own lives, which leads to an unexpectedly genuine romance.
Nala (The Lion Guard)
Gabrielle Union succeeded the role of Nala, Simba’s lifelong friend and bride in The Lion Guard: Return of the Roar, a one-hour special spin-off of The Lion King, which first aired on Disney Channel in 2015. She would reprise the voice of the character for several episodes of the series continuation, which follows her and Simba’s son, Kion (Max Charles), on adventures to protect the Pride Lands with his friends, who make up the titular heroic crew.
Gabby (H-E Double Hockey Sticks)
Years before her recurring role on The Lion Guard, one of Gabrielle Union’s first gigs with the House of Mouse was this devilish comedy made as The Wonderful World of Disney’s “movie of the month” in October 1999 on ABC. Union steals the show with a scenery-chewing performance in the aptly-titled H-E Double Sticks as Gabby, who is hired to help demon-in-training Griffelkin (Will Friedle) steal the soul of selfish NHL pro Dave Heinrich (Matthew Lawrence, who played Friedle’s best bud on Boy Meets World), until a charge of heart inspires the three of them to win the Stanley Cup in order to prevent Dave’s damnation.
Alice Kramden (The Honeymooners)
In this update of the classic 1950s sitcom starring and created by Jackie Gleason, Gabrielle Union plays Alice Kramden who, along with Regina Hall’s Trixie Norton, struggle to maintain patience with their cheap, scheming husbands - New York City bus driver Ralph Kramden (Cedric the Entertainer) and sewer employee Ed Norton (Mike Epps). While the more acclaimed portrayal of Alice would more likely go to Audrey Meadows, we still applaud Union for how she attempts to reinvent the character and how this 2005 comedy tries to bring the fun of The Honeymooners into the modern day.
Kristen (Think Like A Man)
Gabrielle Union would reunite with Regina Hall in this 2012 dramatized adaptation of Steve Harvey’s advice book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man, in which her character, Kristen, is a representation of the women Harvey dubs “The Girl Who Wants the Ring,” and finds herself in a conflicted relationship with Jerry Ferrara’s Jeremy (a.k.a. The Non-Committer). Union would reprise the character, along with the rest of the cast, in the Las Vegas-set sequel Think Like a Man Too.
Mary Jane Paul (Being Mary Jane)
Created by prolific television writer Mara Brock Akil in 2013, this BET original chronicles the behind the scenes drama of an otherwise successful talk show host. Gabrielle Union stars as the title character, and serves as executive producer, of Being Mary Jane, which was originally conceived as standalone TV movie until its engrossing plot and progressively minded characters had audiences wanting more.
Sydney Burnett (Bad Boys II, L.A.’s Finest)
Unfortunately, Being Mary Jane was cancelled by BET after four seasons, but Gabrielle Union would land on her feet soon after as an executive producer on L.A.'s Finest, a 2019 action-dramedy series made exclusive to Spectrum customers, in which she joins forces with Jessica Alba on the LAPD. The buddy cop series also sees her reprise her role from Bad Boys II as former DEA badass Sydney, the sister of Martin Lawrence’s Marcus Burnett.
What do you think? Would you also consider these ten roles to be the talented beauty’s greatest hits, or did we accidentally skip a few that would have formed a more perfect Union? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back for additional information and updates in relation to Gabrielle Union, as well as even more retrospectives on some of the most memorable acting moments from your favorite celebrities, here on CinemaBlend.
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Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in almost any article about Batman.