As a kid growing up in the 1990s, I didn’t put two and two together. I would watch content that I found entertaining. One day, I was binge-watching the Disney channel, and my father happened to walk through the house.
“Do you watch anything with Black people on it?” he said. That was the moment that I was like, “Oh wow, he’s right.” That’s when I first became aware of the lack of representation on television.
I made my first two short films when I was 16. Originally, I wanted to be a film editor. When I was in college, my best friend, who is now a writer and director, kept telling me, “T, you should be my agent. T, you should be my agent.”
I was trying to find him representation, and in that way I was acting as his agent. But at the time I thought you had to be an attorney to officially be an agent, and I didn’t feel like going to law school and going into debt.
So, post-college, I did accounting. I focused on entertainment on the side, keeping my ear to the ground of what was going on, but entertainment is not a steady check, and I needed a steady check. I was a staff accountant at various privately-owned companies, and then for several white billionaires. I would do their personal accounting for their estates, their horses — you know, money shit.
The hard truth of it is that studios and networks are not looking to diversify the agency they do business with. They just want the bigger agencies to send over a few faces of color from time to time.
Eventually, I just wanted to do what I love. I was meeting all of these talented actors who were saying the same thing about not being able to get an agent. First I tried to get entry-level employment at different agencies, but that didn’t happen. I had one internship, but I left after six weeks because the owner was ridiculously racist. So I went ahead and launched my own agency. Now my best friend is my client, so it’s kind of come full circle.
I always wanted to have a roster of talent that was comparable to what I encountered on the streets of Los Angeles. I didn’t approach agenting the way the others have, where the majority of the roles were for Caucasians, so they just overloaded their rosters with Caucasians. The chief complaint when people of color would set up a meeting with me was, “I can’t get an agent, because every time I reach out to an agency, they tell me, ‘We already have your type.’” What that really meant was, “Okay, we have our standard two Black people. We’re good.”
I keep hitting walls over and over again. Diversity and inclusion in entertainment — you hear those words and you think change is going to happen. You also naively think, “Oh cool, that means studios and networks should be looking for some Black-owned agencies to do business with.” The hard truth of it is they’re not looking to diversify the agency they do business with. They just want the bigger agencies to send over a few faces of color from time to time.
When Netflix and Amazon and Hulu started to take off, I was excited, because I thought it would create more opportunities for unknown talented artists — but I was wrong. They didn’t care about finding the next Shonda Rhimes. They just wanted to bring Shonda Rhimes over to their networks. You can’t really have diversity and inclusion if you’re not willing to start developing new talent.
Now, with everything that’s transpired with the death of George Floyd, we’re seeing a lot more roles specifically made open to people of color and in some instances specifically ask for African Americans. We saw extreme instances of crisis management when the protests started. You had talent agencies that have never posted a single hashtag about a Black person killed by the police all of a sudden posting black squares on Tuesday and celebrating Juneteenth on Friday.
It’s quite angering. I think it’s a slap in the face to every Black person. We know you don’t care about Black lives, because you never have. You deliberately prevented African Americans from having jobs inside your agencies. You deliberately prevented African Americans who are qualified from being directors or producers or writers. There have been so many aggressive actions taken against Black people entering into significant positions in entertainment that I just find it hard to believe that all of a sudden now you’ve had a change of heart.
We’re not producing as much work as we normally would due to the quarantine, so you don’t really know what the true impact would have been if we had been under normal working conditions. Behind the scenes, everybody seems to be scrambling to figure out how they can meet the demands that Black Hollywood has given them. There are a lot of Caucasians who don’t understand how to solve the problem. For me, the problem has been quite simple: Hire Black people.