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[FastForward] Hollywood Reps Talk the Browning of Big and Small Screens

In our second Webisode, a high-powered agent, attorney, casting agent, and a studio head share how we can battle the blinding Whiteness of the entertainment industry

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We are still on a high from the melanin mandate that was this year’s Tony Awards. We live for brown-hued Hermione.  Do NOT get us started on the unapologetic Blackness about to erupt if Lupita N’yongo joins Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler on set for a solo piece centered on Black Panther.  **faints dead out**

But we all know that the totality of the entertainment world is still quite a ways away from anything that looks like true diversity and representation for our people, onscreen, onstage or behind the scenes.



To that end, for the second edition of #FastForward, EBONY.com and the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) invited some of the most influential stakeholders in the world of entertainment to continue our discussion that started right after the OscarsSoWhite. It was critical to the conversation to talk with “the reps,” or the deal-makers, casting powers-that-be, agents, and attorneys who witness firsthand how Black talent and executives are treated out of the public eye.

The first part of this eye-opening discussion features attorney Nina Shaw, a powerful partner at the blue-chip law firm Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka, Finkelstein & Lezcano, where her clients include Jamie Foxx, Nick Canon, Ava DuVernay and Misty Copeland.

We also welcome powerhouse talent executive Deborah Byrd who has booked stars for a long lineup of premium awards shows that include the NAACP Image Awards, The Critic’s Choice Awards and BET Honors, among others. Also in the hot seat is Andrea Nelson-Meigs, a talent agent at the entertainment industry powerhouse ICM Partners where her client roster includes superstar Beyonce Knowles and rising talent like Jurnee Smollett (“Underground”) and Alfred Enoch (“How To Get Away With Murder”).

Our final panelist is veteran entertainment executive James Lopez who is the Head of Motion Pictures at Will Packer Productions (“Think Like a Man”).  The former music executive calls B.S. on suggestions that, overseas at least, Black don’t track (h/t to former panelist Jeff Clanagan of Code Black Entertainment) for that hashtag-friendly  turn of phrase).

“I’ve seen firsthand how our culture travels the world and how it impacts people in every territory, but the difference is that record labels are investing in an artist over multiple albums,” Lopez tells the panel.  “They have that artist for 6 or 7 albums, so they are going to see a return on investment by sending artists to territories and working the different global markets.  A film, you’ve got one shot. It’s kind of like an excuse that they use.”

Our intrepid multimedia producer, Chan C. Smith, captured the passionate debate shot at Black-owned Post & Beam restaurant in Baldwin Hills, Los Angeles.

Highlights from our conversation, broken into two parts, include Shaw revealing what it’s like for Black clients to be low-balled; Lopez revealing being pigeonholed to “urban” projects; Byrd sharing the trifecta of brown star power that Hollywood will accept as leads; and Nelson-Meigs shedding light on whether talk of colorblind casting.

“There has definitely been progress…there can certainly be much more,” explains Nelson-Meigs, who reps talent dynamos including Jurnee Smollett Bell, Mara Brock Akil and Quvenzhane Wallis. “But for me as a talent agent, sitting in talent and casting rooms, being able to talk about what’s casting around town, whether it be at a studio, whether it be for films or television and actually hearing conversations saying it’s open casting. They’re looking at all ethnicities….and to actually have clients going in and call me after the audition and say to me ‘which one were they casting today?  I saw everybody, I saw people from every walk of life in there.’  That to me is progress and the direction we want to go in, assuming there is a reality behind it.  Because what I’ve  also seen is a script may call for open ethnicity, but 9 times out of 10,  9.5 times out of ten, they end up casting a Caucasian actor.”

You will want to hear the rest…trust.

Watch the full conversation, hosted by EBONY.com’s head of digital Kyra Kyles and AAFCA’s Gil Robertson, below. Then talk to us about these much-needed revelations and suggested solutions on social media via @Ebonymag and @theaafca using the hashtag: #fastforward.

Flash back to our first Fast Forward conversation, “The Creatives” featuring “Dear White People” producer Effie Brown; Black & Sexy TV co-founder Numa Perrier; Code Black Entertainment (“Perfect Match”) founder, CEO and President Jeff Clanagan; as well as the director of the LA Film Festival and film producer pioneer Stephanie Allain, of “Hustle and Flow and “Beyond the Lights.”

ABOUT OUR MODERATORS

Kyra Kyles is the Head of Digital Editorial, aka she runs EBONY.COM and JETMag.com.  You can get @ this digital diva on social media via thekylesfiles on Twitter or Facebook.  Oh yeah, and feel free to send social media / tech etiquette questions and grievances to her via kyra@ebony.com. She just might tackle them for the next “Social Skills.”

Gil Robertson IV is an award-winning journalist, bestselling author and president of the African-American Film Critics Association. EBONY.com and the AAFCA are partnering to push the conversation for film and television diversity forward.


A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Alfred Enoch’s current television show.





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