Gabrielle Union: Breaks out with ‘Breaking In’

In the year since “Get Out” was released, few other films have broken genre tradition by putting Black people at the center of a thriller. But “Breaking In,” the new movie that sees Gabrielle Union as Shawn, a mother desperate to save her children from a group of burglars, did.

The 88-minute adrenaline puzzle leaves any pretense of a damsel in distress behind in favor of a smart, resourceful heroine. There are no unbearable scenes where Shawn makes a nonsensical decision or delivers an unrealistic monologue.

Union put her best foot forward not only as “Breaking In’s”protagonist, but executive producer alongside Will Packer. This is her fourth time playing the lead role behind the camera, proving that when women of color tell their own stories the final product is always better.

Defender: What drew you to this script?

Gabrielle Union:Basically, the fact that she saves herself. There’s no one that comes to her rescue but her. Through this strength and intelligence and wit and cunning of her and her daughter, they figure out how to save themselves. And when the man shows up, when the dad shows up, he’s actually a liability.

Defender: In the movie, you’ve got your plain T-shirt on. You’re barefoot. Your loved ones are hostages of money-grubbing crooks. This is your Bruce Willis in “Die Hard.” 

Union:I fought the shoeless thing. it. I lost that battle. I was like, “In the Black community we don’t do barefoot outside.” We really don’t do barefoot inside, it’s just not a thing in our community. And they were like, “No, no! She got home, she took off her shoes.” But nooooo, we just don’t do that. The audience is gonna be like, “Ewwwwww.”

Literally, there was some person’s poor job where anytime you could see the bottom of my feet – because they’d turn black – they’d wipe off the bottom of my feet. It can’t distract people. And then the second she has the bad guy tied up, I’m like, she needs to take his shoes. We can’t do a whole movie with this because people will be like, she’s still barefoot! She’s running barefoot! Which was not my favorite part

Defender: Why do you think audiences are resistant to seeing people of color, specifically Black women, in these kinds of roles?

Union:I think we’ve been given so few leading roles, period, and there’s just not a ton of diversity in those leading roles. We would be perfectly okay if my character was a white woman with a strong Black friend who gives amazing advice who she calls as she’s on her journey toward self-discovery and saving herself. But we don’t often to get to see women of color saving themselves, using their brains and wit. It’s just very, very rare. When you see my character is technically an angry Black woman, but she’s not a stereotype.

Defender: Did you feel prepared to undertake this from a producer standpoint?

Union:As talent and also as a producer, I know what it takes for talent to come to set, feel good, feel grateful to be there and deliver the kind of performance that we need in a timely fashion. Most talent, at some point in their careers, has functioned as a producer…On season three of “Being Mary Jane,”I was added as an executive producer. Later, I brought on Will Packer to executive produce with me on “BMJ.”This is actually our third project that we’ve produced together. I’m actually not new to this, I’m true to this. I’ve been at this for a while.