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
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.”