When Gabrielle Union-Wade turned 50 last October, the veteran actor and producer experienced a personal transformation, which has also filtered into her latest work. This era of her career, she says, is about embracing the possibilities.
“Whatever I thought that my dreams were, I was making them small,” Union-Wade told Variety at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF). “Turning 50 is about making things bigger by expanding the idea of what the possibilities could even be.”
Union-Wade debuted two projects at ABFF: the Netflix rom-com “The Perfect Find” and the BET+ docuseries “My Journey to 50,” which chronicled her birthday pilgrimage to Africa. She celebrated the BET+ series first, hosting a private bowling and ice-skating bash at the Miami Beach Edition on June 15, the same night the doc began streaming.
In a quick speech, Union-Wade thanked guests for joining her in her “second hometown” of Miami. “Wade County, baby!” she shouted out, referencing the nickname fans gave the area when her husband, three-time NBA champion Dwyane Wade played for the Miami Heat.
“My Journey to 50” is about finding one’s self, an expedition she embarked on in an effort to more truly and freely live the next 50 to 60 years of her life. “If you find self, you find freedom,” she explained. “And what better way to find self and the source of all of our selves than Africa — the birthplace of all civilization, the birthplace of everything that’s good has happened in the world.”
Thus, it was important for her to debut the series at ABFF, a venue where “we center Blackness. We don’t run from it. We don’t explain it. We don’t apologize for it.”
The celebration continued the next day, June 16, at the Black Excellence Brunch, which promoted Netflix’s “Strong Black Summer” with “The Perfect Find” (available beginning June 23) and “They Cloned Tyrone” launching in July. Later that night, Union-Wade hit the red carpet for the movie’s boisterous centerpiece screening for ABFF passholders.
Union-Wade executive produced and stars in the rom-com, playing Jenna Jones, a fashion editor who returns to New York City to her rebuild her life after a messy breakup and high-profile firing. Her career comeback hits a snag when she falls for a charming, much younger coworker (Keith Powers) — who happens to be her new boss’s – and former rival’s — (Gina Torres) son.
The film is based on the book by Tia Williams — where Union-Wade first fell in love with the character — and features the type of May-December romance you usually see led by older white men, not a Black woman over 40. As such, it presents a new possibility for Union-Wade and the filmmakers to expand Hollywood’s attitudes about what sells, and the crowds at ABFF and Tribeca (where it won the audience award for narrative features) affirmed their instincts. “The people are speaking, and it’s time we listen,” she said.
Joining Union-Wade for the special screening were “The Perfect Find” director Numa Perrier, co-stars Powers, Torres and Aisha Hinds, as well as the film’s producers Tommy and Codie Oliver (“Black Love”) and her friend Taraji P. Henson (the upcoming musical adaptation of “The Color Purple”).
Perrier had been a fan of Union-Wade’s work (particularly “Two Can Play That Game” and “Deliver Us From Eva”), which made it all the more exciting to be part of the entertainer’s creative rebirth.
“That was just a really beautiful alignment between us in terms of the next chapter of her career and what I wanted to do in the next chapter in my career,” Perrier said. “It was really all about being seen in a different light, showing a softer side, showing what failure looks like, showing what putting yourself back together looks like, through this amazing story, which we both related to on such a personal level.”
Speaking of personal, Union-Wade’s return to Florida comes amid political turbulence in the state led by Gov. (and now 2024 presidential candidate) Ron DeSantis. Both Union-Wade and her husband are dedicated activists, and in an April interview with journalist Rachel Nichols, he disclosed that that the family moved their permanent residence from Florida due to state legislators enacting anti-LGBTQ legislation.
“Obviously, the taxes are great. Having Wade County is great. But my family would not be accepted or feel comfortable there,” Wade said at the time, alluding to his 16-year-old daughter Zaya Wade, who is transgender.
On the red carpet, Union-Wade explained why it was important for her to attend ABFF despite the politics.
“I’m here to say that there are people in this city — in this very city — who do not feel safe here, do not feel protected here, don’t feel the love. And when you are governed, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Tallahassee or Key West, you’re still under the same rules and regulations,” Union-Wade said. “So I’m here to let people know that there is a way out and that’s called voting him out.”
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