“Stories That Are Funny, Complicated and True”
In the spirit of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, and Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, a powerful collection of essays about gender, sexuality, race, beauty, Hollywood, and what it means to be a modern woman.
One month before the release of the highly anticipated film The Birth of a Nation, actress Gabrielle Union shook the world with a vulnerable and impassioned editorial in which she urged our society to have compassion for victims of sexual violence. In the wake of rape allegations made against director and actor Nate Parker, Union – a 44-year-old actress who launched her career with roles in iconic ’90s movies – instantly became the insightful, outspoken actress that Hollywood has been desperately awaiting. With honesty and heartbreaking wisdom, she revealed her own trauma as a victim of sexual assault: “It is for you that I am speaking. This is real. We are real.”
In this moving collection of thought-provoking essays infused with her unique wisdom and deep humor, Union uses that same fearlessness to tell astonishingly personal and true stories about power, color, gender, feminism, and fame. Union tackles a range of experiences, including bullying, beauty standards and competition between women in Hollywood, growing up in white California suburbia and then spending summers with her black relatives in Nebraska, coping with crushes, puberty, and the divorce of her parents. Genuine and perceptive, Union bravely lays herself bare, uncovering a complex and courageous life of self-doubt and self-discovery with incredible poise and brutal honesty. Throughout, she compels us to be ethical and empathetic and reminds us of the importance of confidence, self-awareness, and the power of sharing truth, laughter, and support.
Union opens her book with some humour, immediately putting the reader at ease, letting you know Gabrielle is about to be herself and these are her stories. Also she mentions that she curses a lot, and she wasn’t joking, she curses A LOT! And uses the word “pussy” a hell of a lot, I think it may even be one of her favourite words! As someone who has seen a lot of Union’s films, I wondered how easy it would be to separate the actress from the woman, the answer – extremely easy, for when Union is speaking you get this sense that the actress has been side-lined and this is her truth now as Gabrielle Union.
In the first half of her book, Union talks quite a bit about growing up in a predominately white neighbourhood – much of this was very relatable, if you don’t find it relatable, it’s a great eye-opener!
“People don’t know what to do with you if you are not trying to assimilate.”
But, after a while, it felt like she went off on a bit of a tangent about boys and dating. Now, I love this whole “woman own their vaginas” thing as much as the next woman, but bloody hell, there’s only so much I want to hear about your dating experiences and someone discovering their vagina, whether that be using tampons or having sex. Sometimes less is more! I understand that some woman don’t receive “the talk” on several topics about womanhood, but the delivery of this with the humour ran dry pretty quickly, I think mainly because I wasn’t sure if the main purpose was to entertain or empower, probably a combination of both. I wasn’t entirely sure what Union wanted me to take away from these particular stories or whether she was just recalling a teenage memory that stuck with her, and I wasn’t meant to take anything away from it.
There were some parts of this book that completely worked for me, and if I could play one snippet of this book to every person I meet, it would be the part where Union talks about colourism, things such as “you’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl” are never okay to say, and it’s not just white people who say things like this, it’s black people too, buying into the notion that the lighter the skin, the more attractive/better the person, and it’s somehow a compliment to be told that you’re pretty despite having darker skin! It’s bullshit, that’s what it is, it couldn’t be further from a compliment!
Union does get deeply personal in this book, and shares events in her life that, as a fan of her films, you would never guess. Union talks about her experience as a survivor of rape, and some of the advocacy work she does. This made me really admire Union, to hear about the trauma she experienced and then to see her using her platform to advocate is an amazing thing. Union also talks about her relationships, past and present, and having children. These were moments Union laid herself bare to us, at her most vulnerable, she told her truth; before this book, I loved Union as an actress, now I love her as a person, for putting her trust in her readers, and sharing such personal experiences.
Overall, I recommend this book, as a series of short stories, it doesn’t follow a 100% linear timeline, but it allows you to get to know Union on a personal level. It’s not an account of her rise to stardom, but an account of the woman behind the rise. Some entertaining stories, but she talked some real shit too, in the second half of this book especially, about being a step-mum, relationships, miscarriages. These were my favourite moments, because the reason you chose to read this book [I hope] is because you are a fan of Union’s films or you’ve seen her in a interview, on a talk show, wherever it might be, and you want to get to know her better, and We’re Going to Need More Wine is an opportunity to do just that. There were a few moments where it seemed like Union was using humour to hold back, as tool to not share in the entirety, and while that came across, it didn’t bother me, because you can never know all of a person, somethings are for the owner alone.
In terms of narration, I can’t fault Union, but I did discover that I really hate the words “guffaw” said out loud! It really irks me, it should be a sound, laughter, not said as a word, it just doesn’t sound right! That’s my little pet peeve, but on the whole, I recommend this audiobook.