When AM PR Group founder Vanessa Anderson decided to enter publicity in 2007, she tells Variety, “it was really hard to find examples of Black women who were doing the work.” And the trend of not seeing herself reflected in her field has continued throughout her career.
“I go to all the major awards-show walk-throughs and there’s so few Black publicists, even at the large agencies that represent most of our A-list Black talent, and only two or three of us actually own our own agency,” says Anderson, who represents Issa Rae and Marsai Martin.
“After seeing that 10, 15, 20 times, I realized that being a publicist is about working with talent and getting their stories out, but I also have to be a pipeline. It’s my duty to bring other people of color, and for me, specifically, Black women into this field,” she explains. “If I walk away from this and there aren’t 20 more ‘Vanessas’ in the field, then I haven’t done a service to this business, Black people or myself.”
Anderson’s experience isn’t an isolated one. The numbers of Black managers, publicists, agents and lawyers in the entertainment industry are also few, but because all those roles have a naturally symbiotic relationship — “40% of my clientele comes from referrals from agents,” Anderson says — she suggests that there’s power in working together.
Last year, Anderson joined top publicists and media experts — Yvette Noel-Schure (who represents Beyoncé), Erica D. Tucker (Yara Shahidi, Kendrick Sampson), Ernest Dukes (Remy Ma, Jeezy), Trell Thomas and Phylicia Fant (Head of Urban Music at Columbia Records) — to form a coalition called My Publicist is Black.
“Once the group was created, we immediately started trying to put money in each other’s pockets [with referrals,]” she continues. “It’s really morphed into a sounding board, a safe space for us to talk about anything and everything.”
Mikael Moore, managing partner at Janelle Monáe’s Wondaland, says that Black people putting forth the effort to support each other is key to success in this business. “We have to be invested in each other’s success regardless of which building we sit in. We’re in a relationship business and we have to shift the point of view on what an important relationship is, and leverage the relationships we have, so that Black people are at the center of all those conversations.”
Before becoming a manager, Moore worked in politics as chief of staff for Rep. Maxine Waters (who is also his grandmother) and notes some of the similarities between that world and Hollywood.
“There are still people who have a significant amount of investment in white supremacy, patriarchy, etc., that are in powerful positions,”
he says. “[At Wondaland], we’ve been lucky to be able to align ourselves with people who don’t think that way, but that is not the average experience.”
He adds, “I actually feel very sympathetic toward people who are in companies who do not have community, especially right now. So, I think one of the most important things is to stay Black and build teams around you that support you, your community and the industry that you want to build.”