"[Isis] doesn’t need to speak in made-up, Blaxploitation dialogue," Union said.

Lia Beck
August 27, 2020
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Getty Images, Frazer Harrison / Staff

Bring It On is one of the most quotable teen movies out there, but it almost had some lines that were more cringe-worthy than memorable. In a new interview with Vogue celebrating the 20th anniversary of the film, Gabrielle Union said that her character Isis was written “like a bad stereotype” in the original script. It was through Union collaborating with the film's director Peyton Reed and screenwriter Gary Hardwick, who had been brought in to help with the Compton Clovers’ dialogue, that Isis became the character fans know and love today.

When Union originally signed onto the film it was titled Cheer Fever. "The script was a little cringe-y," the actor told Vogue. "So when they offered me the job, I said, ‘Can we make some changes?’ And they were open." And thank goodness for that.

According to Union, Isis, the Clovers’ leader, “was like a bad stereotype."

"There was a line in the original script that was like, ‘Meow! Me-gonna-ow you! My nails are long, sharp, and ready to slash!’…. Huh?" Union said. "And that girl ends up at U.C. Berkeley? How did girls from Compton talk in their minds? How about we make her a very clear leader where her path to cheer justice is done with more class and dignity but also justifiable anger. She doesn’t need to speak in made-up, Blaxploitation dialogue.”

So, instead of a character that speaks in bizarre threats, the movie ended up with a character who was smart, determined, and—for good reason—mad. After all, her cheers were being stolen and culturally appropriated by a popular, mostly white cheer squad. 

“I knew what it would have taken for Isis to get into U.C. Berkeley,” Union explained to Vogue. “Knowing that that’s where she ended up, I just sort of worked backwards in creating a very strong, intelligent leader who was also justifiably fucking angry.”

Still, some people view Isis as a villain, and Union has more than an inkling that her villainization has to do with the character’s race.

Union said she once saw a public poll pertaining to "great cinema villains" and Isis had made the list. “I was like, ‘When the fuck did I become a villain?’" Union said. She then wondered why Isis was considered a villain—"For wanting accountability? Does calling someone out make you a villain?"

She explained, per Vogue, "When Black women ask for accountability, no matter the tone, some people hear aggression or rage. They make me the angry Black woman versus someone whose work and intellectual property has been stolen, repackaged, and used to win national championships.”

In case you forgot, Bring It On has a lot more going on than just being a funny cheer movie, as it explores race, appropriation, and white guilt. No one makes a better case for re-watching it than Gabrielle Union.