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Screenwriter Wannabe Sues Top Hollywood Agencies For Racial Discrimination

by on June 27, 2011
 

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.

Justin Samuels

Exactly how hefty a sum is he asking for?

8 million dollars!!!

His logic:

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?

Probably not.

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.

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  • Matt
    September 13, 2013 at EDT

    There are a lot of very talented undiscovered screenwriters out there that haven’t gotten their “big break”, just because this guy hasn’t doesn’t mean anything except it shows how ingnorent his is. But some of those people that eventually have a career start somewhere in the industry, even as PAs or INTERNS. Did this guy even look at the option of submitting his query letters to the dozens of other agencies listed on the WME website? NO. Now that he filed a lawsuit against the two top agencies in Hollywood he put the nail on his screenwriting coffin.

    Reply

  • Kukrudu
    June 27, 2011 at EDT

    Deserve ain’t got nothing to do with it?

    Reply

    • Neema
      June 28, 2011 at EDT

      Are we all acting like Hollywood hasn’t marginalized black folk? If you agree they have, what are you doing about it?
      This young man has taken a bold step, let’s support him. If anything at all, at least it raises awareness about the issue.

      Reply

    • Phimphilm
      June 28, 2011 at EDT

      Is this like an opinion? Raising what kind of awareness? That black people are stupid? Yah, I guess it’s raising awareness about how some black people feel entitled through this Affirmative Action crap. Is that what you want? A perpetuation of stereotyping?

      Reply

  • Mike
    June 27, 2011 at EDT

    Please, please, please, he deserves it. After all that hard work, Cornell + 8 scripts? That’s something to write home about.

    Reply

    • Grace
      June 28, 2011 at EDT

      You kidding me? I don’t think you guys really understand the issue. Do you happen to know how Hollywood works? You can’t just crawl out of Cornell and hope that the road to becoming a great screenwriter is just going to meander its way to your doorstep. There are lots of good writers whose work never see the light of day… sometimes until they are dead (knock on wood).
      What is he crying about? What racial discrimination? Can I sue Hollywood for not buying my script too?

      Reply

  • Hercules
    June 27, 2011 at EDT

    He was definitely born and bread in the USA. Go to someone’s land, accuse them, and take from them what was not your, by force or by coaxing them into giving it to you.

    Reply

  • Agnes
    June 27, 2011 at EDT

    I don’t understand, is this like his toy project, a Comedy Reality Show? If is it, it’s a bad choice and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. If it isn’t and he’s being serious, then I don’t know what to say. $8 million? N8ger pleaazzzz!

    Reply

    • Jannette
      June 27, 2011 at EDT

      You guys have no idea what is going on. I think he could sue for $20 million. Shake the calaphonies off those suckers in Hollywood.

      Reply

    • Jackey
      June 28, 2011 at EDT

      Das right! N8ger pleazzz!! I mean shizzle, what da fizzle?

      Reply

  • Cricket
    June 27, 2011 at EDT

    So when I read this I was like, you never know, maybe he’s been real marginalized real bad. So I decided to read some of his scripts online. I just finished reading one of his scripts on Amazon and here’s what I can say to him, “yo, u need to chill… take a few more classes or som’n!”

    Reply

  • ++Jerome
    June 27, 2011 at EDT

    What is he thinking?

    Reply

    • Charles
      June 27, 2011 at EDT

      He’s thinking alright! This ngr is applying what he’s been taught by the folks over there in the Ivy. Talk’n bout, ‘I went to a school like Cornell’. What the f8ck that suppose to mean? Anyways, he’s one hell of dude.

      Reply

      • Cochran
        June 27, 2011 at EDT

        Haters! Cos u didn’t have an Ivy League Education? The Best kinda education in this country?

        Reply

      • Ziggy
        June 27, 2011 at EDT

        @ Charles
        Really, get a grip on yourself, don’t have to take it all up the a*s of Ivy leaguers.

        But this dude here deserves some loving, maybe he ain’t gett’n none at home. The best we can do now is to listen to him, console him and show him there someone here for him. Then maybe, just maybe, he my just come back to his right senses.

        Reply

    • //Amedeos
      June 27, 2011 at EDT

      Then James Cameron or Quentine Tarantino is gonna say, ‘hey little Samuels, too bad you’ve been discriminated against… a smart m#therf#cker like you? No no no, gimme ur script, amor check it out and make you a movie’ What?

      Reply

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