ANDREA NELSON MEIGS (ICM; agent since 2000; clients include the performers Beyoncé Knowles, Ellen Burstyn and J. Cole) Not a lot of people of color know what being an agent is, who have aunts, uncles or cousins who are agents. Once you know about it, how do you get in? Once you get in, how do you keep them there? I’m from L.A., so I lived at home when I was in the mailroom. I was never making enough money to live on my own.
TIAUNA JACKSON (The Jackson Agency owner; agent since 2014; clients include the actors Sam T. West, Arthur Richardson and Lucy Boryer) A lot of times those people of color at top agencies are the cream of the crop — they went to Stanford, Princeton, elite schools. I think especially people of color had to come from those backgrounds to even get in. I went to Chapman University. It’s a good school, but it’s not Ivy League. I was never able to get into the mailroom programs at the top-tier places. I’m told I’m not the right fit, and we kind of know what that is code for. I’m self-taught. I have to fight every day just to make $50. I have sobering moments of truth when interns I trained are now at those top-tier agencies. Both of those people are Caucasian.
LORRIE BARTLETT (ICM; agent since 1993; clients include the stars Michael Keaton, Regina King and Lucy Liu) There was no beacon for me to follow. I had parents who could help, not a ton, but I lived at home a couple of years longer. I worked really hard. Maybe as women, as people of color, we have to go one step further — 10 steps, 15 steps further — just to show our worth.
NELSON MEIGS When I was coming up, most people of color were dual degree, having gone to business school or law school. I think there is just the perception of, “Wow, if they’ve accomplished all of that, they are likely capable of handling the job of being an agent.”
ASHLEY HOLLAND (WME; agent since 2013; clients include the director Boots Riley and the stars Halle Berry and Janelle Monáe) High-achieving people of color today, coming out of universities — tech, financial service, Fortune 500s, every industry is recruiting them aggressively. Agencies are not participating in that kind of ecosystem. Historically, agencies hired friends or family of people in the business, until there was an infrastructural shift to focus on diversity. I was the beneficiary of that.