Di­ver­sity: Hol­ly­wood Has Come Far — but Still Has Far to Go

A fly-on-the-wall look at progress, or lack thereof, in the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness

Variety - - Top Billing - Er­win More Guest Col­umn Er­win More is a tal­ent man­ager and part­ner at More Me­davoy Man­age­ment.

Iam a white man work­ing in Hol­ly­wood. I grew up in Bev­er­ly­wood, an all-white, pre­dom­i­nantly Jewish, Los Angeles neigh­bor­hood sand­wiched be­tween 20th Cen­tury Fox and MGM, where my ele­men­tary school had only one black stu­dent.

I am com­pelled to write about di­ver­sity in Hol­ly­wood be­cause “di­ver­sity” — in front of and be­hind the cam­era — is not just about equal­ity in terms of em­ploy­ment but about shar­ing unique, di­verse per­spec­tives. As a tal­ent man­ager, I have wit­nessed the strug­gles of mi­nori­ties; I have watched the fight to pry open doors that for too long have been shut tight and only very re­cently are be­gin­ning to open. I am also com­pelled to write about di­ver­sity be­cause I have learned the most from those who are dif­fer­ent from me.

At age 18, while a stu­dent at UCLA, I had the ex­tra­or­di­nary op­por­tu­nity of land­ing a part-time job at Nor­man Lear and Bud Yorkin’s Tan­dem Prods. and TAT Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, the pre­em­i­nent tele­vi­sion pro­duc­tion com­pany of such clas­sic sit­coms as “All in the Fam­ily,”“one Day at a Time” and “The Jef­fer­sons.”

One of my first man­age­ment clients was Academy Award hon­oree and Emmy-win­ning ac­tress Cicely Tyson. I be­came fas­ci­nated by Miss Tyson, who em­bod­ied a com­mand­ing pres­ence and a pas­sion to find truth in the roles she pur­sued. At that time, “di­ver­sity” was not a widely used term in Hol­ly­wood.

I learned quickly that even with Miss Tyson’s pow­er­ful tal­ents, fame and awards, roles for black women were few and far be­tween. She crafted a ca­reer of longevity with many lean years be­cause there were so few roles that war­ranted her tal­ent. She taught me dig­nity and the need to fight for op­por­tu­ni­ties that would, hope­fully, tear down the color and cul­tural bar­ri­ers that ex­isted. She would not speak pub­licly of the strug­gle; she chose to let her roles (“Sounder,”“the Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Miss Jane Pittman,”“fried Green Toma­toes,”“heat Wave,”“the Help”) put for­ward her fight to open the minds of peo­ple all over the world through her por­tray­als of women of color in dif­fer­ent walks of life. She in­spired a gen­er­a­tion.

She af­forded me the very unique op­por­tu­nity of at­tend­ing pre­dom­i­nantly black events. One Mon­day a num­ber of years ago, which hap­pened to be Martin Luther King Day, she called me and chided me for be­ing at the of­fice. She said, “You are not work­ing on Martin Luther King Day; you are coming with me.” She drove me to an event in South Cen­tral Los Angeles where Rosa Parks was re­ceiv­ing an award from then-pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton. Other than the pres­i­dent and a few Se­cret Ser­vice agents, I was one of the very few white faces. I had the honor of meet­ing both the pres­i­dent and Ms. Parks, who was a tiny pow­er­house of en­ergy and grace.

In my trav­els with Miss Tyson, I got small glimpses into the African-amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence. Many times I was the sole white face at events. I would lis­ten and learn about life from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. I am pro­foundly moved by the gen­eros­ity of my di­verse clients who shared many of their unique ex­pe­ri­ences and per­spec­tives with me. As much as I think I know, I dis­cover how lit­tle I know about the per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence of in­jus­tice and ex­clu­siv­ity.

I find my­self im­mersed in rep­re­sent­ing re­mark­able, tal­ented and di­verse clients such as film­maker-ac­tress Salli Richard­son-whit­field, film­maker-ac­tress Sonja Sohn, writer Amani Walker, writer Trey El­lis, ac­tor Reno Wil­son, ac­tress Carla Quevedo, ac­tress and emerg­ing writer Joy­ful Drake, ac­tor Daniel Hen­ney and writer Jonathan Fer­nan­dez, to name a few. These gen­er­ous clients al­low me a win­dow into their lives. I am struck by the com­plex­i­ties of what it means to be a mi­nor­ity in Amer­ica.

I am re­minded of a day in the mid-1990s that I had ar­ranged for Miss Tyson to be in­ter­viewed by Pre­miere magazine. She was to meet the reporter at a New York City ho­tel. The ar­ti­cle was about how things for mi­nori­ties had changed in movies. It was a stormy day, and Miss Tyson ar­rived at the ho­tel for the in­ter­view a bit weather-beaten. She was car­ry­ing pack­ages that she wanted to check and ap­proached the front desk. Be­fore she could get a word out, the per­son sum­mar­ily dis­missed her, say­ing, “De­liv­er­ies are in back.” Miss Tyson gath­ered her things and her pride and walked into the ho­tel din­ing room to com­mence her in­ter­view about how things had changed.

The story of Miss Tyson has stayed with me for many years. It has al­ways served as a re­minder of how far we have come — and yet the re­al­ity is we have not come far at all.

‘Di­ver­sity’ is not just about equal­ity in terms of em­ploy­ment but about shar­ing unique, di­verse per­spec­tives.”

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