Talent Agencies Defend Their Diversity Programs After Oscar Furor

CAA Illustration
Kotryna Zukauskaite for Variety

Partners in Hollywood’s major talent agencies have not spoken out directly about the recent furor over the lack of racial and ethnic diversity among Academy Award nominees. They declined to discuss the issue or provide demographic breakdowns for their organizations, as Variety focused this week on the ethnic and racial makeup of the entertainment industry.

But each of the big agencies — CAA, WME, UTA and ICM — has called diversity a high priority for their workplaces and industry and described initiatives to bring more minorities and women into the fold.

With the agencies often serving as gatekeepers into the entertainment business, their profile and world view are critical in shaping the films, TV shows, concerts and even online content that Hollywood brings to the world. A look at the diversity initiatives in Hollywood’s major tenpercentaries:

CAA

CAA is stepped up minority recruitment, including at historically black colleges and women’s colleges, and even down to the high school level. Fifty-nine percent of interns worldwide in the last five years have been people of color and, among interns promoted to full-time employment, 54% are women and half are from “diverse backgrounds.”

“One of the greatest challenges is — and it’s why we started as we did — there have been a limited number of agents of color in the business to point to when recruiting new employees,” said Ryan Tarpley, the exec spearheading the effort at CAA. “We have looked at how we can expand this and have been creative in identifying those in the industry who are not agents, but have skill sets transferable to the agency world.”

The agency acknowledges it needs to make more progress. It encourages non-whites to be part of its Writers Boot Camp for young writers. Another program, You’re Up, is designed to support diversity among its executive ranks. Guest speakers talk about issues of concern, such as Eva Longoria addressing U.S. immigration policy.

“The issue of diversity and inclusion is a very important one for us,” said Tarpley said. “We believe more diverse voices from diverse backgrounds make our company stronger, with a better quality experience for everyone — our company and clients. It’s good business.”

WME

WME has a diversity recruitment initiative and has veteran agents to mentor assistants as they transition to full agent status. Like other agencies, WME faces a challenge in landing jobs candidates who receive more lucrative offers from other industries. The agency has responded with a “hardship financial supplement” to make entry level salaries more competitive.

It has adopted schools in underprivileged communities in Los Angeles, New York, Nashville and London, mentoring students and introducing them to careers in the entertainment industry. Some mentors have been working with students for more than five years and one from the agency is paying his young charge’s college tuition.

UTA

UTA has begun to recruit minority applicants as early as their freshman year of college because of competition with other agencies, studios and companies like Google, Apple and Goldman Sachs.

The agency also has a partnership with University High School in West Los Angeles, mentoring students for the past decade to make them more familiar with the entertainment industry and the agency world.

“A lot of those young kids … don’t even know those opportunities exist and by bringing them in through the mentorship program they see that this does exist,” said Michael Conway, chief administration officer at UTA. “We continue to track them all the way through college so that by the time they make it through the university we have that relationship with them.”

ICM

ICM didn’t offer specifics about its minority promotion efforts, but issued a statement on its goals: “ICM Partners has always made a diverse culture a fundamental imperative of the agency. In our constant search to hire and promote the best and brightest, our goal is to provide career opportunities to individuals of all races, religion, gender and sexual orientation. We want our company to reflect the world around us, both in Hollywood and beyond.”

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  1. gordon says:

    Big agencies are telling white actors they can’t sign them because they are white. They are only looking to sign “black and latino” actors. It’s utter nonsense.

  2. Emma says:

    I am so sick of the politically correct machine being the excuse for the need to give a “minority” an advantage! I am a white, lower “middle class” JEWISH, woman. In the current whirlwind of “poor me, It’s not fair, gimmie”… Am I a minority? Do I not fall into the discriminated, unfairly treated, unjustly treated masses? Oh Please! Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years. Everywhere we go we meet obstacles of seemingly insurmountable odds. You don’t see a bunch of Jews bitching and boycotting. There aren’t Jews in the streets rioting. If there is to be diversity then let it go to the most qualified candidate. Instead of the world whining about the oppressor holding them back, roll forward. You want the job, the title, the position. Go get it without a hand up or a handout… Either way it’s still a hand. Get up by your own self and revel in your own strength. Only that strength will create change and true diversity.

  3. TheBigBangof20thCenturyPopCulture says:

    This is not just a PC black and white issue and there are other minorities who suffer while nothing is done. Where is the agencies’ diversity promotion for marginalized ethnics not white enough to get quality work or positive roles who are only offered background support or negative stereotypes parts? Yeah, I thought so.

  4. this is outrageous.this quota thing is unfair to white people

  5. Holden Caulfield says:

    What about someone like me, a white male, trying to break into the entertainment industry as an agent’s assistant?? Why is it fair to automatically give me a less than 50% chance to get a position, because of the color of my skin? There are many minorities who do not necessarily have the same “struggles” as a white male. Denzel Washington’s kids for example… who had a more privileged upbringing? Most likely them, yet they still get extra consideration because they were not born white.

    • Anonymous says:

      Since you brought identity into it, perhaps your real competition is the others matching your general profile but with connections. But a good true diversity program should probably include rural, flyover state, culturally conservative, ex-military and/or otherwise nontraditional white candidates for those voices as well.

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