When Bring It On hit screens in 2000, it opened the floodgates for broader conversations about cultural appropriation—and also spawned a slew of Bring It On sequels. Who could forget that prom queen Hayden Panettiere transferred to the underfunded school across town and revolutionized her celebration program in Bring It On: All or Nothing?
The original film was groundbreaking in more ways than one. “Bring It On” revolves around a white cheerleading squad led by Torrance Shipman (Kirsten Dunst) who must come up with an original cheering routine after discovering that their former captain was doing the all-black squad’s choreography stole from all over town. Ultimately, the film emphasized the importance of addressing wrongdoing through call culture, while also highlighting the power of black cheerleaders to impact their communities.
But Gabrielle Union, who plays Isis and leads the East Compton Clovers roster, has a complicated relationship with Bring It On. In a 2020 interview with Vogue, she called the original script “a bit spasmodic” and praised the showrunners for allowing her to steer the character away from “made-up blaxploitation dialogue.” Despite her intention to mold Isis into a noble leader, Union recalls an occasion when she saw an online poll characterizing Isis as a villain. “Why is she a villain?” She asked. “When Black women hold themselves accountable, some people hear aggression and anger, no matter the tone.” Perhaps it’s that reaction to Isis that made Union regret a key thing about her performance on Bring It On.
Gabrielle Union feels like she’s muzzled her character
Two decades after “Bring It On” took hold in pop culture, Gabrielle Union has some thoughts about things she wished she’d done differently in film. While the decision to send Isis out onto the country road was well-intentioned, she now feels like she’s “muzzled” her character. “I thought that was the bigger person,” Union told People in September 2021. “But instead, I didn’t give my full voice to the frustration and harm that cultural appropriation causes.” I didn’t allow her to be as angry and disappointed and frustrated as she should have been.”
The film undermines expectations because in the end, Isis’ East Compton Clovers team walk away victorious, although Bring It On largely follows Kirsten Dunst and the Toros. After the competition, the two women share a moment of mutual respect. “I got into this whole gracious winner thing,” admitted Union. “A young black girl should have said, ‘Yes, you stole our routines and when you were forced to make up your own, you weren’t good enough.'” Union added that she wanted the audience to see Isis on the accepted the basis of being “a respectable black leader” but in doing so she molded Isis into something that was only convenient for other people.
So how would she portray Isis now? “I would have read the Toros for shit,” she admitted in a 2021 Good Morning America interview.
Gabrielle Union is an advocate for women of color
To listen to Gabrielle Union, “Bring It On” has made several missteps in its mission to promote racial equality. In a January 2022 TikTok video titled “Fun Facts,” the actor explained that filmmakers teased viewers with Clover’s cheerleading scenes that never made it into the film.
“So we shot these clips that you see here after the film was done because the test viewers, when they saw the film, wanted more from the Clovers,” Union said. “So we shot this one [scenes] just for the trailer, not the movie, to make people think we’re more into the movie than we are. The end.” The revelation sparked a flood of fan support for Union and the Clovers. “Sis the Clovers deserve their own movie,” one person wrote. showing how the hard work of black cheerleaders has been repurposed with blonde hair and white skin.
Over the past few decades, since breaking onto the acting scene, Union has used her platform to become a champion for women of color. In 2022, her production company, I’ll Have Another, inked a deal with BET to give diverse storytellers and marginalized communities a bigger voice than Essence. “‘I’ll Have Another’ believes that culture, community and individual representation are important on screen,” she told the outlet. Union also has an entire #WCW series on Instagram highlighting women of color she admires.