Black Panther was a behemoth of a film, breaking box office records around the world and seemingly ushering in a new era of diversity in Hollywood. While the impact of the film is undeniable, attorney Jaia Thomas dug deeper into what the success of Black Panther actually meant for Black people in the entertainment industry as a whole. While many people started using Black Panther as this example of how much headway we have made with regard to diversity in entertainment, Thomas found that there were few Black people making major decisions as agents, attorneys and executives involved.
She was further disheartened by the results when she discovered through the entertainment representation platform, IMDBPro, a low number of Black agents, managers, publicists and attorneys involved with the film's A-list team. Thomas' research found that it was common among many A-list Black talents to not also have Black representation and saw a prime opportunity to make a change.
"I started speaking to industry talent, asking them, 'Why don't you have any Black people on your team?' and a lot of people told me 'Well I don't know of any,'" Thomas told Shadow And Act. In her research, she also found that "There are a lot of ways in which we've been brainwashed, especially as Black people, to think that [in order] to have effective representation they need to be a certain way," she said.
Inspired to act by the dearth of Black representation she's seen in Hollywood, she decided to start Diverse Representation, a platform where actors, athletes, influencers and more—can find agents, attorneys, publicists, and managers of color in one place.
Diverse Representation panel at Sundance Film Festival 2019. (Photo by Chann Little)
I decided to create this database of Black publicists, agents and attorneys so no one can ever use that as an excuse again," Thomas exclaimed.
In July of 2018, Diverse Representation premiered as a directory where individuals can find representatives of color in Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta. Since then, Thomas has expanded the database to include more cities, hosted events in Hollywood, a panel at Sundance and NBA All-Star weekend, created a membership option, and is looking to create content on the website that will continue to fulfill its mission of increasing the exposure and number of African-American agents, attorneys, managers and publicists who work in the sports and entertainment industry.
Though it catapulted after the success of Black Panther, the idea for Diverse Representation has been brewing in Thomas' mind for years. Having started her own law practice over 10 years ago, Thomas, who also teaches a course at UCLA on copyright law in the entertainment industry, has heard many of the reasons people say they don't hire representatives of color and the myths they believe. "Over the years I just heard comments over and over again from people who think that their representation needs to look a certain way to be effective. Whether it's [via] rap lyrics or people I've overheard in conversations, a lot of people think [in order] to have a great attorney they need to be 'white and Jewish' or they need to be a white woman. These misconceptions have blocked several talented professionals from getting work,” Thomas said.
Diverse Representation at NBA All-Star Weekend. (Photo by Lilly Lawrence)
Additionally, Thomas described the importance of doing a better job of circulating money within the Black community and hiring and referring each other. "We need to get to a space where we all know each other. Diverse Representation is just making sure that the network amongst all of us is very tight," Thomas said. To aid in this, Thomas plans to host a conference to give people the opportunity to collaborate, connect, and build together.
Diverse Representation also plans to unveil an app and more content on the website later this year. You can learn more about Diverse Representation on their website DiverseRepresentation.com.
Photo: Jaia Thomas