CAA Launches Writers Database to Help Fix Hollywood's Diversity Problem
CAA’s Christy Haubegger, like many people of color in Hollywood, has grown tired of hearing excuses for the lack of diversity in showbiz. As the head of the agency’s multicultural business development since 2005, Haubegger has done much to improve opportunities for inclusion—from formalizing the company’s internship process to encouraging agents to sign younger writers of color for representation. She is also the organizer of the agency’s invite-only Amplify conference, which in its second year brings together multicultural leaders from various industries to network and collaborate. This year, the conference will feature talks from ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey, writer-producer Alan Yang, N.B.A. star Carmelo Anthony, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, among others.
On Thursday, as part of the conference, Haubegger will further those efforts by launching the Amplify Database, a searchable directory of more than 800 TV writers of color.
Compiled using Writers Guild of America and IMDb data, the database features all writers of color who have identified themselves as such through their union and who have at least one TV credit in the last five years, along with their highest-level writing position and their representation, if they have it. Access will be free to industry decision-makers after they register. Once public, new writers with a TV credit to their name can petition to be added to the list. (Likewise, anyone who doesn’t want to be on the list can ask to be removed.)
“There are so many writers now working in TV, and there is so much television, that when people say, ‘I’d love to develop a show with a Latino writer, but I don’t know anyone,’ we put a packet together of people we represent,” explained Haubegger of how the database started. “Then we started expanding beyond CAA clients. Soon it was, ‘Let’s build this.’ I just want to take the excuse away. No one should be able to say, ‘I couldn’t find one.’”
CAA isn’t the first company to create a searchable database for improving representation in Hollywood.
#OscarsSoWhite founder April Reign announced her own database in March called Akuarel for people of color to find job opportunities in the creative industries. Destri Martino launched a directory of female directors called the Director Listback in 2015. What makes CAA’s effort distinct is that it’s an organization inside Hollywood attempting to formalize a process that is often achieved through the very unscientific method of random phone calls and e-mails.
“I think what’s so powerful and important about this database that allows people to find access [to different voices] is that it’s not just about having diverse characters or story lines, it’s about authenticity in narrative design,” said producer Heather Rae,a Native American who is often asked where people can find Native American writers and filmmakers. “It’s one thing to say, ‘Let’s cast an Asian-American actor to play that role.’ It’s something entirely different if the design of the narrative is coming from a voice who represents that world. It’s speaking from, rather than speaking about. And I think that could be a tremendous shift in our cultural fabric.”
Should the database be embraced by the industry, Haubegger hopes to add a diverse base of directors and feature-film writers, including non-minority groups that are under-represented, to the project (e.g., female directors). “Diversity doesn’t happen by accident,” she said. “You have to do things differently than the way you were doing it before. People still say there is a false choice between excellence and diversity. Talent is evenly distributed, it’s the opportunities that aren’t. All we are trying to do is re-distribute the opportunities.”
Haubegger joined CAA in 2005 after founding Latina magazine in the mid-1990s. With a Stanford Law degree and two producer credits under her belt (Chasing Papi,Spanglish), she believed the agency would be the most effective place for her vision of inclusion to be translated more broadly into the world of TV and film. As the Mexican-American adopted daughter of two “tall, blonde people,” who grew up in Houston, Texas, Haubegger said she always felt a “calling to give back.”
At CAA, that meant imploring agents to hire more talent of color. (Haubegger said when she started, the agency had 23 clients of color in music, television, and film. Now the agency reps 450.) She consults on the businesses of such clients as Eva Longoria, Zoe Saldana, and Salma Hayek, among others, all of whom have built robust production companies with business plans that Haubegger played a role in the creation and expansion of. In formalizing the company’s internship program, what used to be the typical Hollywood nepotism machine—where the sons and daughters of Hollywood’s elite began in the mailroom—is now a competitive program where the agency annually receives 2,500 applications for just 80 spots.
Most recently, Haubegger created writer boot camps for the agency’s younger writers of color to be schooled in the vagaries of the business, with sessions dedicated to preparing them to rise up the ladder quickly. One day of instruction included a “How to Not Get Fired from the Writers’ Room” session by Walking Deadshow-runner Glen Mazzara. A lawyer taught the class ”How Does Your Deal Work?” And there was a speed-networking round for the young writers to meet with industry execs.
“There is so much demand for diverse writers right now and there isn’t enough supply,” said Haubegger. “We feel like we have to get them ready for the big leagues faster.”
At last year’s Amplify conference, Haubegger, a self-described data geek, revealed the work CAA did with comScore’s PostTrak product, box-office receipts, and actor-ethnicity data to compile the Diversity Index, which proved that films with diverse casts significantly outperform those without. “I love data,” she said. “Data can help you overcome bias.”
It can also help Hollywood make more money. And this new database is one tool, she believes, that will help the industry do so.
“The stories we tell matter. We get to decide what a hero looks like, and what a villain looks like, and it shapes what we think of each other and what we think of ourselves,” said Haubegger. “Also, there is a business opportunity. Diversity of thought and experience drives innovation. And the innovation of our business is reliant on getting new voices in. This is how we are going to do it.”