The ongoing “reckoning” in Hollywood has placed a spotlight on many facets of the industry, including awards organizations and industry gatekeepers. As more stories come to light, it becomes crystal clear that the issue isn’t one or two aspects of Hollywood—it’s the entire system.
The latest talk of the town is thanks to the LA Times, which recently published a report that entertainment agency ICM Partners (representing clients such as Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee, Regina King and Wanda Sykes) allegedly maintained a “hostile work environment, where women and people of color were subjected to harassment, bullying and other inappropriate conduct,” per a group of 30 current and former ICM employees.
“HR does not have any records of such allegations,” ICM told LA Times in a statement. The agency also noted that it “does not tolerate harassment, bullying or other inappropriate conduct. HR investigates all reports received and addresses each with appropriate disciplinary measures up to and including dismissal.”
In 2019, the prominent agency also received backlash after Black assistants and other lower-level staffers claimed they were instructed to pose as agent-trainees in a promotional video intended to make the agency appear more diverse than they truly are when it comes to the higher-ranking roles.
The LA Times provided more details:
Jabari McDonald was just three months into his job as a media rights assistant when an HR manager came to his desk and asked if he’d be willing to help fill the space in a video shoot that would highlight ICM’s agent-trainee program. McDonald, who has a master’s in film from Columbia University, figured his role would be to sit in the background so the room wouldn’t appear empty.
Instead, he and two other Black support staffers were asked to sit next to a line of white agent-trainees, presenting the appearance they were part of the program when they were not, McDonald said.
“You wouldn’t have to use Black assistants as props if there were enough Black people here that could naturally be here in this program,” the 29-year-old said. “The situation could have been mitigated if they pay people more and if they stopped giving priority to nepotism hires.
Orrrrr you could’ve just hired some of these Black folks as talent agents/trainees—especially in the case of McDonald, who had post-grad education—and paid them what they’re worth?!
“It was poor judgment,” ICM confirmed to LA Times. “it was quickly corrected.”
Additional information, via LA Times:
Last June some assistants and administrative staff in the agency’s touring department banded together to push the leadership to make institutional changes, starting with raising the pay above $15 an hour. They believed the “systemic absence of racial diversity at the agency to be a direct result of our low wages,” according to a note to staff in an email obtained by The Times. “While all of ICM’s donations to organizations bolstering the Black Lives Matter movement are commendable, we assistants and support staff would have rather seen an investment in fixing the systematic exclusion of Black people from this office through pay increases. If the company wants to truly see more Black and brown faces in the mailroom and beyond, it is going to have to pay up.”
“It’s a lot of talk and very little action,” McDonald noted. “They’re putting on the performance that they are putting in the work, and behind the scenes they are not.”
These claims come after ICM confirmed it had been successful in its “50/50 by 2020” gender parity pledge last year, with at least half of its promoted agents being women. A person close to the company told LA Times that “ICM has 60 partners and managing directors, with four who are Black, three Asians and one who identifies as two or more races.”
However, as I always say, inclusion for representation’s sake alone is useless unless you’re also creating an environment where the “diverse hires” feel safe, heard and respected.