SCREENWRITER SUES HOLLYWOOD AGENTS -- ALLEGES RACIAL, SEXUAL DISCRIMINATION
by Thomas M. Sipos, managing editor [June 12, 2011]
[HollywoodInvestigator.com] Justin Samuels is suing Creative Artists Agency and the William Morris Agency -- two of Hollywood's top talent agencies -- for 8 million dollars! The scribe says that he has been unable to obtain professional screenwriting work because of those agencies' racially and sexually discriminatory practices.
"Their extremely restrictive recruiting policies for screenwriters locks out non-white and women screenwriters," Samuels, age 34, told the Hollywood Investigator. "I tried to break in for nine years. I've sent out hundreds, if not thousands of query letters.
"Major production companies always respond by saying that you need an agent to submit to them. Major agencies -- such as CAA and WMA -- say that they don't accept unsolicited communications, and that the only way they would consider you is if a major player in the industry referred you."
While this "who you know" system makes it tough for any outsider to "break in," the system is especially hard on non-whites and women.
"The major white male players tend to recommend people they are close to as good friends," says Samuels, "which apparently rarely include non-whites. More white women are able to get in than non-whites, but even they don't have the access that white males do.
"The film industry is entirely closed. To get read by a major producer or studio, your work must be sent by an agency. The agents only read work recommended by players. This disproportionately locks out non-whites."
As evidence, Samuels cites a WGA Minority report which finds that "the percentage of non-white screenwriters, typically at a low 6% of the population, has declined to 5% of the population."
Samuels offers additional proof in observing that the film industry is not lacking in potential minority hires -- if only the agencies would look out of their own office windows. "The film industry is in Los Angeles and New York," said Samuels, "in cities with large non-white populations, who are almost entirely excluded from important behind-the-scenes jobs such as screenwriters."
Samuels concedes that smaller, indie production companies are more open to outsider talent, but he doesn't think this solves the real problem. "Small production companies will respond positively to query letters," says Samuels, "but these 'no name' companies include companies with little resources and no ability to make many films. Many go out of business in a short time."
A proof of his writing skills, Samuels mentions that he graduated from Cornell University with a B.A. in history. "I minored in English and writing classes. I've done screenwriting workshops on the side. [But] my work has no chance of even being considered by a Hollywood talent agency, as I am not in the inner circle of the industry, whose support I would need for an industry referral. This is nepotism and racism at its worst.
"Yes, I assume I'd succeed in screenwriting if not for the alleged discrimination."
Samuels filed his lawsuit in federal court, in the Southern District of New York, in fall 2010. He is represented by employment lawyer Eric Andrew Suffin. Samuels is suing as an individual, rather than as a class action. He can be contacted via email: js63 at cornell dot edu
Read more about employment discrimination in the entertainment industry in Hollywood Witches.