A client’s best interest has sometimes come second to the bottom line. As the entertainment industry wrestles with its role in the
Harvey Weinstein scandal, agents and talent alike are reassessing their relationship.
Tamara Holder was a contributor at Fox News in 2015 when, she says, a network executive tried to force her to perform sexual acts on him. Holder eventually won a settlement in the case, and the executive, Fox News Latino Vice President Francisco Cortes, was fired (Cortes is suing Fox, alleging he was a scapegoat for the company). Holder might not have seen such results had she taken the initial advice of her agent, who, in a September 2016 email, urged her to stay quiet about the incident. “A wise position to take,” I.C.M. agent Steve Levine told Holder in an e-mail viewed by Vanity Fair.
As the entertainment and media industries continue to grapple with the fallout from the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and those in power assess how complicit they were in it, few entities sit atop fault lines as fractious as Hollywood‘s top talent agencies. Holder’s story reveals the complex role agencies can sometimes play in sexual-harassment and assault cases, as talent representatives weigh the well-being of their clients against lucrative long-term relationships with studios and networks.
“The agents deserve to have their cloaks ripped off them,” Holder, who said I.C.M. started representing her in summer 2016 as her Fox contract was expiring, told Vanity Fair. “The agencies have a vested interest in protecting their own bottom line, not their clients.”
Holder’s experience of trusting her agents to guide her in meetings with potential employers mirrors the behavior of actresses as well. As performers including Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Rosanna Arquette, and many others came forward with stories about Weinstein in The New York Times and The New Yorker, the scandal reached into the offices of top Hollywood agencies. Speaking to The New York Times, Paltrow described heading to a meeting with Weinstein at the Peninsula Beverly Hills hotel early on in her career. There was no reason to suspect anything unusual, the actress told the Times, because the meeting with Weinstein was on her official schedule. “It’s on the fax, it’s from C.A.A.,” Paltrow said, referring to the agency that represented her at the time. Rose McGowan, one of the first actresses to allude to Weinstein’s behavior, on Monday called out agencies on Twitter.
In Hollywood, it is commonplace for meetings between talent and producers or studio heads to be held outside traditional office buildings, in restaurants and hotel lobbies. A source inside C.A.A. said the agency would never intentionally put a client in an unsafe situation. Paltrow is now represented by U.T.A.
In May, I.C.M. hired L.A.-based law firm Latham & Watkins to investigate the agency’s handling of Holder’s case. “At an all-agency meeting, the results of that investigation, in which no wrongdoing was found, were reported to the entire agency directly by the investigators,” I.C.M. said in a statement to Vanity Fair. The firm’s investigation, however, did not include reaching out to Holder, who told Vanity Fair that she has not heard from the agency since the fall of 2016, nor from the Latham & Watkins investigators. “We hired one of the top law firms in the country, Latham & Watkins, to conduct an external, independent investigation which was extensive,” I.C.M. said in a follow-up statement. “Latham & Watkins independently reached the conclusion that the documentary evidence was such that speaking to Ms. Holder was unnecessary and that there was no wrongdoing on our part.”
In the days following the news reports about Weinstein, many agents have begun to grapple with what the scandal means for their firms and their clients. Some have held company-wide meetings on their sexual-harassment policies, while other agency bosses have sent memos to their staffs to underline their company’s views. At I.C.M.’s all-agency meeting on Oct. 9, managing partner Chris Silbermann “encouraged anyone who believes they or any of our clients that have experienced conduct violating the agency’s anti-harassment policy, to report it to Human Resources or Legal, so that it could be promptly addressed and remedied,” according to a statement supplied by the agency.
U.T.A. C.E.O. Jeremy Zimmer wrote an e-mail to his company’s nearly 1,000 staffers: “Let me be crystal clear about who we are – and what we stand for: UTA respects and protects the boundaries of our colleagues and clients. UTA does not tolerate behavior that crosses those lines. UTA will never be silent or complicit.”
W.M.E. also issued an e-mail to its staff from Ari Emanuel and W.M.E.’s senior management team, according to a source at the agency. The note offered the company as a support system to anyone affected by Weinstein’s actions and spoke about the idea of ending “open secrets,” referring to the environment of whispers and innuendo that facilitated his behavior.
Among themselves, many agents spent the week soul-searching about what they could have done. “Here’s what upsets me,” said one female agent at a top talent agency. “I wish I knew. I would have reported him, I would have confronted him. I wouldn’t have let it continue. It makes me angry that I didn’t know.”
Weinstein’s reputation for rage-filled outbursts has been well documented, and many agents experienced it firsthand. But the sexual-abuse allegations were only talked about in small, whispered circles. Many agents claim to be have been completely in the dark, and that ignorance is fueling much of today’s outrage.
“I’m actually beating myself up about it, that all this other stuff came out [about Weinstein] and this didn’t,” said another female agent at a competing firm. “I can’t wrap my head around the fact that he clearly crossed the line and it wasn’t talked about. I keep saying there must have been cues I didn’t pick up on. We took it for granted that it stopped before the sexual abuse. Why did we not question it?”
The agencies face sexual-harassment issues within their own ranks as well. In September, C.A.A. fired one of its top television agents amid allegations that he had violated agency policies, two sources at the agency confirmed. So when C.A.A. partners Bryan Lourd and Kevin Huvane addressed their staff about the Weinstein case last week, their forceful condemnations of the producer’s alleged behavior rang true, staffers who were in the meeting said.
While many at the agencies are still reeling from the fallout and examining how they will move forward, others are comforted by the belief that this will prove to be a moment of change in the industry at large.
“The only good news—and this goes well beyond the entertainment industry—is that we are absolutely at an inflection point and there is no going back,” said the second agent. “I feel there’s a renewed sense of commitment to recognize and call out this behavior. These recent disclosures are more than just revelations, they are a rallying cry to take action now.”
As Harvey Weinstein’s brother, Bob Weinstein, seeks to save their company, agencies’ willingness to work with the Weinstein Co. going forward will be key. Many are reluctant to continue their relationship and are actively trying to extricate their clients’ projects from the troubled company. One partner at a top agency said he will not do business with any version of the Weinstein Co. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re done,” the partner said.
Watching the Weinstein saga unfold from Chicago, where she moved after her Fox News contract expired in January, Holder said she is wondering what to do with her life next.
“The sad part?” Holder said. “Levine was right. If I didn’t speak up, I’d probably still be in TV.”
– Courtesy: Vanity Fair