In the latest blow for an industry already reeling from public perceptions of hypocrisy, one of Hollywood’s most powerful talent agencies is facing numerous allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination, and fostering an abusive work environment.
ICM, which represents A-listers like Ellen DeGeneres, Samuel L. Jackson, and Chris Rock, pledged in 2017, at the height of the #MeToo movement, to help change the culture in Hollywood by making sure at least half of its leadership positions were filled by women within three years. Superficially, at least, the company claims to have achieved that goal. But a bombshell report in The Los Angeles Times Wednesday detailing more than 30 complaints of inappropriate conduct suggests it has failed to live up to the spirit of the promise.
Almost a dozen female ICM employees told Times reporter Wendy Lee they were mistreated by male coworkers and reported the conduct to HR or their superiors, with no discernible change in the agency’s culture. Women outside the company who work closely with ICM agents also reported receiving unwanted sexual advances. Among the most serious accusations the Times details — that top agent Steve Alexander (who represents John Travolta) exposed himself to a female film executive inside her car, and agent Kevin Hussey tried to kiss a client in a hotel lobby.
ICM told the Times it addressed the complaint against Hussey by assigning the client to other agents but said its HR department has no record of other allegations. The company said in a statement it doesn’t “tolerate harassment, bullying or other inappropriate conduct.”
In the last two years, the agency has also made a public show of diversity, saying in an internal memo last June it would, “make every effort to hire diverse candidates for at least half of all open positions going forward.” But the Times suggests that, too, may have been little more than window dressing as minority employees complain of being used as tokens. Lee reports black staffers claim they were coerced into appearing in trainee videos to telegraph a commitment to diversity that was only skin deep.
Jabari McDonald, who worked as a media rights assistant, said he and two other black staffers were asked to pose as agent-trainees to make the program appear more diverse. ICM admitted this claim is true but chalked it up to poor judgment, saying, “it was quickly corrected.” The company also didn’t deny accounts from former staffers of being screamed at and called names by senior executives, one of whom threw a package at an assistant’s head when she failed to secure him a lunch reservation.
Facing a barrage of bad press, ICM’s female board members appear to be attempting to form a pink wall around the company. When I called to ask if the 2017 pledge to promote the safety and success of women amounted to little more than a PR stunt, Corporate Communications Coordinator Niki Costa emailed me a statement from three female ICM board members.
“Any insinuation that our 50/50 by 2020 pledge was an insincere marketing ploy is utterly irreconcilable with both the facts and our personal experience,” Lorrie Bartlett, Jennifer Joel and Janet Carol Norton said. The trio continued, “In a challenging, competitive, and labor-intensive industry that demands much of its participants, we feel privileged to enjoy both a safe and encouraging environment, fair and abundant opportunities, and the respect and support of all colleagues of all genders.”
Ironically, one of ICM’s highest-profile clients, Shonda Rhimes, is a founding member of the #MeToo activist group Time’s Up. And former Fox anchor Gretchen Carlson hired the company to manage her career in the wake of her sexual harassment allegations against Roger Ailes. Based in part on public perception that Carlson went to war against powerful, abusive men, the agency quickly landed her an upfront deal with A&E. The Daily Wire reached out to Time’s Up for comment on this story and did not receive a timely response.
Should Rhimes, Carlson, or any other ICM clients who’ve become public faces of #MeToo decide to jump ship, the beleaguered agency could join the ranks of The Weinstein Company and other one-time power players who suddenly find themselves on the D-list.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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