The Hollywood powerhouse Creative Artists Agency offers an exclusive look at how they help us see a more diverse world.
Not many Hollywood agents are known to the wider public. But Christy Haubegger has distinguished herself in the Latino community as a woman with real vision. She has championed the cause of diversity, first through founding Latina Magazine when she was still in her 20s, then as a Hollywood producer, and now as Head of Multicultural Business Development at CAA, one of the largest and most powerful agencies in Hollywood.
Even if you’re not yet familiar with Haubegger, you’re sure to recognize some of the household names she represents, such as Rosario Dawson, America Ferrera, Andy Garcia, Salma Hayek, Eva Longoria and Jennifer Lopez.
Hollywood BC (before Christy) was a very different place for Latinos. With few exceptions, they were sidelined into ethnic-specific roles. For a while, Latinos had to be hand-selected to get noticed, from when Louis B. Mayer chose Rita Moreno (she looked like a Spanish Elizabeth Taylor to him) to when Madonna beckoned to Antonio Banderas after seeing him in an Almodovar film. Even successful actors with international awards had difficulty finding good representation.
All that began to change with the death of Selena in 1995, and society as a whole saw the first indications that Latinos could be more financially viable than anyone had ever imagined. The very next year, Haubegger started Latina Magazine and was perfectly poised to capture the synergy of that electrifying moment when Ricky Martin performed at the Grammy Awards in 1999. Suddenly, phones began ringing off the hook with national advertisers seeking to reach the Hispanic market, and Haubegger was there to answer the call. By 2001, Newsweek had recognized her as one of the “Women of the New Century” and Advertising Age considered her to be one of the “Women to Watch,” among numerous other accolades.
This move toward greater diversity benefited other underrepresented groups as well, notably the LGBT community. In the prosperous economy of the ‘90s — which lifted all ships as it diversified — whole segments of the public and their consumer dollars would no longer be ignored. It’s no coincidence that at this juncture LGBT characters started appearing on prime time shows like Will & Grace and Ellen.
Haubegger is known for her wit, which is often delivered in an inscrutable deadpan, but what comes across most in conversation with her is a leonine sense of leadership. This leadership has led to results, too; increasing her agency’s multicultural clients by over 1300% from only 30 clients when she started at CAA over a decade ago. There was no playbook for how to increase multiculturalism in the industry when she arrived, so she devised her own strategies for doing so.
Today, in collaboration with others, she continues to innovate. A Stanford-trained lawyer, Haubegger started TIME’S UP (nwlc.org/legal-assistance) — along with fellow female powerhouses Maha Dakhil, Michelle Kydd Lee and Hylda Queally — as a game-changing response to the abuses of the likes of Harvey Weinstein. All four women work at CAA and are among the most esteemed and successful agents/executives working in Hollywood.
The TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund is managed by the National Women’s Law Center. In the first two months since TIME’S UP was formed, over $21 million was donated by approximately 20,000 people, and over 1,800 people had requested their legal assistance. The legal fund is open to women in all industries, not just those who work in Hollywood. “The best thing to do for people who need help,” Haubegger says, “is to go onto the website and fill out the intake form for people to avail themselves of free legal services.”
Last year, CAA’s 2017 Motion Picture Diversity Index identified a number of fascinating dynamics in the industry, including the fact that under-represented groups disproportionately attend movie theaters. Although non-white Americans are 38% of the population, they purchase 49% of all box office tickets. This math practically requires that box office hits attract audiences that are more than 50% under-represented groups. In 2016, seven of the top ten grossing films were attended by opening weekend audiences that were more than 50% non-white.
Thus, the average opening weekend box office for films that attract what is called a “truly diverse” audience (audiences that are 38-70% diverse) is $31 million. Films that fail to attract diverse audiences average $12 million — less than half as much. The point is underscored by the success of films with inclusive casts and characters, such as Moonlight, Black Panther, Coco and Get Out.
Furthermore, the study found that “at every budget level, a cast that is 30% or more diverse racially outperforms a film that is less diverse,” explains Haubegger. “What this means is that it is very good business to be inclusive in casting.”
Although these numbers focus primarily on ethnic diversity, the dynamics almost surely extend to all under-represented groups. Audiences feel validated when they see authentic representations of themselves and people like those they know on screen.
“There’s never been a better time to be a black writer or an LGBT actor or a Latino director. There’s more opportunity than ever, because people are finally recognizing this a business opportunity,” says Haubegger. And the opportunities are expected to continue to grow as the stunning results of the Motion Picture Diversity Index sink in, results recently confirmed by UCLA.
The takeaway is that outdated mindsets are costing the studios and networks real money. Now that we know this, perhaps the long-standing practice of “white-washing” stories (casting white actors to play originally non-white characters, such as Scarlett Johansson in Ghost In the Shell) will come to an end.
Perhaps all of this should have been apparent since the days of Rudolf Valentino. At the time, the stereotype of Southern Europeans like the Italian Valentino was that they were too racially and religiously different, prone to carrying diseases and incapable of assimilating into American culture. After spending five years limited to playing small ethnic villain roles that did little to capture audience’s imaginations, it was LGBT screenwriter June Mathis who first recognized Valentino’s potential as a leading man and insisted to studio heads that he be cast in the pair of movies she wrote specifically to showcase his talents — two films that made him an instant box office smash.
The most underrepresented group in film remains women. Even though women are 50.8% of the population, they account for only 31.4% of speaking roles in film. Also disproportionately underrepresented are the disabled (a whopping 18.7% of the American population but only 2.7% of the speaking roles). The next most underrepresented group is Latinos (17.8% of the population, 3.1% of the speaking roles). The number of Black and Asian characters seem to have risen to be approximately proportionate to their percentages of the population, 13.3% and 5.7% respectively.
Meanwhile, the LGBT community has been recorded as 3.5% of the American population — although it has been posited this number may be drastically under-reported, but are still under-represented with only 1.1% of speaking roles in film being LGBT. Although the study takes into account some great gains and high profile successes — the independent film Moonlight directed by Barry Jenkins, Star Trek Beyond directed by Justin Lin, Pariah directed by Dee Rees, LGBT representation in film and television is still far from adequate.
For example, only 23 of the 125 films made by major studios in 2016 contained LGBT characters. Amazingly, half of those 23 films devoted a grand total of less than one minute of screen time to those LGBT characters. Only nine films contained LGBT roles that passed the Vito Russo test as characters who matter substantially to the narrative. Among LGBT characters, males outnumber females two to one. And only approximately 20% of the LGBT characters are people of color — a 5% decrease from the previous year, which was already a decrease of 7% from the year before that. Comedies remain the most likely genre to include LGBT characters. Only one film during the time considered contained a transgender character and one contained a non-binary character.
Ruben Garcia, an executive at CAA, specializes in boosting LGBT numbers and working to strengthen pipelines of talent — both on and offscreen. His efforts include managing the company’s global internship program, recruiting at top colleges and universities, developing and launching CAAedu for internal career development, and establishing CAA’s employee committee initiative to provide a platform for meaningful discourse on diversity issues.
“I’m encouraged by the number of people who have come to the table to have conversations with us about what they can do. They want to be more thoughtful about their engagement as it relates to inclusion and equity in this industry,” says Garcia, as he explains a number of initiatives CAA is spearheading:
CREATORS’ SUMMIT (ABFF) – begun in 2017, CAA in conjunction with the American Black Film Festival (ABFF), brings together the directors, writers and producers participating in the festival to focus on the pitching process, project development and facilitating relationships within the industry.
CREATORS’ SUMMIT (GLAAD) – in partnership with GLAAD the event “allows us to dig a little deeper and work more cohesively. … We’ve invited people who are in the business of creating content to join us for a day to really understand the state of LGBTQ representation in media. … It’s intended to give them a toolbox to take back to their networks, studios, companies and their writers rooms to help accelerate and advance the inclusive representation of LGBTQ on their shows or in their projects.”
CAA AMPLIFY – The first-of-its-kind by-invitation-only event brought together multicultural artists and executives from across entertainment and related industries to foster diversity.
YOU’RE UP now AMPLIFY: NEXT GEN – “The one-day conference targets young executives of diverse backgrounds from various industries to come join us for a day of professional development, learning, and fellowship as a way to build a really strong cohesive community that can work together and do business together to accelerate their careers together,” explains Garcia.
LGBTQ ALLIANCE – “Internally at CAA, we launched our LGBTQ Alliance for employees from across the company, a group of people that create programming … to just come together and make sure we have a welcoming inclusive environment for everybody that works at the company,” Garcia notes.
WRITERS BOOT CAMP – A by-invitation one-day intensive summit for comedy writers.
“We’re talking about hosting something we’re calling emerging show runners,” Garcia adds.
“We’ve been able to extend that reach and partner with different entertainment companies to make sure that we are supporting a larger industry network of LGBTQ executives and allies. We’re moving far beyond writing checks to these organizations. Collaboration is what’s going to move the needle more quickly,” says Garcia.
“I think Ruben and I in particular are motivated by a personal sense of mission around these issues. We want to take advantage of this moment,” says Haubegger. “What really matters is that there are people like me and Ruben who work at CAA so that the people in the room actually look like the world. … We understand that we are a cultural gatekeeper in many ways. We all know that the work that we do in Hollywood matters.”
Their work may matter most for constantly wired generations taking their cues about how the world works from media. It’s hard to overestimate the power of film and TV. What we see on the screen has the power to shape who we are and impact the wider culture. The script for Moonlight sat for a decade before someone found the courage to film the story of an LGBT black boy growing up in the ‘hood, and it won the Academy Award for Best Picture. There must be countless other stories similarly waiting to be told and experienced.
In addition to changing our perceptions of ourselves and others, media is one of the great American exports, Haubegger points out. “There are over seven billion people on the planet. Most of them will never come to the United States, but they see our movies and our television.” With their work, Haubegger and Garcia are showing the world that “we can bring dignity and humanity to people whose stories historically were not included,” she says.
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