By Olivia Bahou
Updated Oct 11, 2016 @ 8:15 am
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David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty

Gabrielle Union looks positively radiant on the November 2016 cover of Essence, but there’s so much more to this story than the high-gloss photographs. The Birth of a Nation star opens up about tackling controversy and “rising above the drama” in the powerful cover story.

In the controversial new film, Union plays a woman who was raped, which was difficult for the sexual assault survivor herself to portray. Her message to her fellow survivors is simple: Follow your heart. “As a rape survivor and as an advocate, I cannot shy away from this responsibility because the conversation got difficult. I don’t want to put myself above anyone’s pain or triggers,” she told Essence.

“Every victim or survivor, I believe you. I support you. I support you if you don’t want to see the film. I absolutely understand and respect that. I can’t sell the film. This movie has always been about more than one person, and for the outspoken feminist advocates and allies who risked a lot to be a part of this project—Aja Naomi King, Aunjanue Ellis, Penelope Ann Miller—we are okay if you have to sit this one out, and we’re okay if you don’t.”

The 42-year-old also opened up about being a step-mom to husband Dwayne Wade’s teenage son. “Teens get teen-y. It’s harder. I never understood that. ‘You won’t sleep.’ I always associated that phrase with babies. Crying, teething babies,” she said.

“Until they walk through the door, I’m terrified. Sometimes I just want to stay off my timeline, because it makes those waits until they walk through the door a thousand times worse. Just envisioning them as a hashtag.”

Dennis Leupold

Read Union’s powerful cover story on Essence.