After nine years and “hundreds, if not thousands of query letters,” aspiring screenwriter Justin Samuels has had enough rejection from Hollywood agencies, in particular Creative Artists Agency and William Morris Endeavor Entertainment. So he filed a lawsuit in fall 2010, suing the two agencies on counts of employment discrimination. His claim goes:
I would need to have this industry referral to be even read (one’s script must be read before [the defendants] can consider a writer for representation)…The problem with that is, in order to submit a script to mainstream producers and directors, one needs an agent. This catch 22 locks out me and other black/non white screenwriters, and only allows a few favored whites to be even considered for screenwriting opportunities, be it script sales or work for hire.
He followed with:
The specific DAMAGES to me are I’m completely locked out of having a career in screenwriting because of the practices of the film industry, in specific Creative Artists Agency and William Morris Agency because of the systematic racial discriminatory practices instituted by Creative Artists Agency and William Morris Agency. Despite my having a good education and despite the fact I’ve worked hard on the 8 screenplays I’ve written, its become quite clear no amount of work I can do will get around the illegal recruiting practices of Creative Artists Agency and William Morris Agency, which essentially state one must be a friend or close relative of an influential film industry person (who are mostly white). Finding out all my work has been for nothing was totally devastating to me. The fact I can have a liberal arts degree from a place like Cornell University and still be told that because I’m not a member of the right racial and social crowds is extremely distressing, and the fact it can happen in the 21st century is appalling.
Exactly how hefty a sum is he asking for?
8 million dollars!!!
I wrote eight scripts, and I estimate them to be worth a million each. Therefore, I am [requesting] 8 million in damages. The agencies should read my work and work with me to sell it. They should open their recruitment of writers.
That’s quite a bold statement!
But I’m still not exactly sure why he’s suing…
Is it illegal to not read unsolicited material or to toss below par solicited material in the trash after sticking it out for the first five pages and a quick fan-through? We can’t seriously expect these agencies to peruse everything in their slush piles, especially work from a newbie who posts drafts of his spec scripts on Amazon.
I’m also confused by his claim of employment discrimination. Seeking employment isn’t exactly the same as seeking representation. And even if the agencies were to take him on as a client, it doesn’t guarantee that they would succeed in selling his scripts (especially for a million a piece) or in finding him gainful employment on any projects.
And yes, there is racial discrimination in Hollywood and hopefully this lawsuit doesn’t belittle that point. Non-whites and women are incredibly underrepresented and have been for quite some time. There’s simply no easy solution to this problem.
Yet when director Jamaa Fanaka sued major networks, film companies, and the DGA for employment discrimination in the late 90s, he had already produced, directed, and written feature films that got theatrical releases. He was experienced and qualified. He had a case. But can an inexperienced writer make the same claim?
There are other ways to bring attention to your scripts if you lack connections, such as entering them into contests or making connections and using them to get your scripts read. Did Samuels talk to other black writers about their experiences and ask them for advice? Did he attempt to locate Cornell alumni who are working in film and try to connect with them? Did he talk to anyone who knew anything about how the industry worked before filing his lawsuit?
It’s apparent that Samuels feels he’s entitled to getting his screenplays read. Maybe because someone told him that an Ivy League degree could open doors. Maybe because he’s part of a generation that is used to getting things on-demand and in high-speed.
Something good could come out of this lawsuit for Justin Samuels, but it’s more likely that it could make building relationships much more difficult.
Maybe instead getting an education in liberal arts, someone should have educated him about the system.
True, an Ivy League degree may buy you President of the United States, but sadly it can’t guarantee you a seven-figure deal with Universal.