Back in 2018, Hollywood lawyer Jaia Thomas was excited — as were hordes of fans — when “Black Panther” hit the big screen. After all, it was a movie of totally Black talent. Thomas didn’t realize at the time that the Blackness stopped at the talent. The actors were almost entirely represented by white teams.
“A few weeks after the film’s release, I spent some time researching the names of the attorneys, agents, managers and publicists who represented the cast. Chadwick Boseman’s lawyer? White. Michael B. Jordan’s publicist? White,” Thomas wrote in Hollywood Reporter. “The thrill of watching such breathtaking production faded against the irony of Black actors discussing ‘Wakanda forever’ with almost all-white teams.”
An entertainment attorney who has been practicing law for 14 years, Thomas looked for a solution to provide Black representation in Hollywood. She launched Diverse Representation — a website with the names of Black agents, attorneys, managers, and publicists across the country — using her own resources and money.
Now is the time for agencies and firms to start asking why they have such limited Black leadership, Thomas wrote.
“Are they creating pathways for higher recruitment and retention of Black employees? They must create strategic long-term partnerships with colleges and universities to recruit a more diverse slate of candidates and make their hiring process more open and transparent.”
Thomas feels the onus is on Black talent to demand more representation by Black people in the industry. Once they start demanding this, the industry will be forced to respond, she wrote. She stressed the need for many more Black-owned talent agencies, management companies, and law firms.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has been making some improvements — albeit slowly — since the debut of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite in 2014 when people went online to complain about how few Black people and people of color received awards and were on the Oscars voting boar.
The Academy recently announced a new initiative to expand Black representation in the filmmaking industry, NPR reported. Called “Academy Aperture 2025,” the initiative includes a plan to require Oscar nominees to meet certain standards for representation.
“While the Academy has made strides, we know there is much more work to be done in order to ensure equitable opportunities across the board,” Academy CEO Dawn Hudson said in a statement. “The need to address this issue is urgent. To that end, we will amend — and continue to examine — our rules and procedures to ensure that all voices are heard and celebrated.”
The Academy says it’s creating a task force of film industry leaders “to develop and implement new representation and inclusion standards for Oscars eligibility by July 31.”
A year after the Oscars So White hashtag in 2014, the Academy attempted to broaden its voting membership, inviting over 300 new members with A2020.
“In the more than 90 years of the Oscars, no Black director has ever won the Best Director award, no Black women have been nominated in that category, and only two films by Black directors have been awarded Best Picture: Steve McQueen’s ‘12 Years a Slave’ and Barry Jenkins’ ‘Moonlight,’” Yahoo reported.
Last week, the Academy reported that a record number of women and people of color were elected to its board of governors, including Whoopi Goldberg and Ava DuVernay. This means the Academy now has 26 women and 12 Black people or people of color on its 54-person board of governors, Vanity Fair reported. This is a first for the organization.
DuVernay was snubbed for a best-director Oscar five years ago. All Academy governors, branch executive committee members and Academy staff will be required to attend unconscious bias training.
“To truly meet this moment, we must recognize how much more needs to be done, and we must listen, learn, embrace the challenge, and hold ourselves and our community accountable,” Academy President David Rubin told NPR.
This article was originally written by Ann Brown for The Moguldom Nation.