Magazine article Variety

Voice for Diversity in a Changing Industry

Magazine article Variety

Voice for Diversity in a Changing Industry

Article excerpt

By TED JOHNSON

At Variety's Power of Women event last October, honoree Ava DuVernay focused part of her speech on her representatives - those agents, managers and lawyers, or "whoever speaks for us in the industry."

Top among these reps, for DuVernay and many others, is entertainment attorney Nina Shaw, who, in nearly four decades in the business has been a key dealmaker, particularly for members of the creative class trying to break in and then endure in a white- and male-dominated business.

Shaw, who will be the keynote conversation at Variety's Power of Law Breakfast on April 6, has a client list that, in addition to DuVernay, includes Raoul Peck, director of the Oscar-nominated documentary "I Am Not Your Negro," John Legend, Laurence Fishburne and Lupita Nyong'o.

She has never hesitated to offer her perspective on and pointed criticism of the industry, particularly when it comes to women and people of color. That includes, as DuVernay noted, an artist's team of representatives, where diversity is scant.

Shaw knows that through her own experience.

After earning her law degree from Columbia Law School in 1979, she joined law firm O'Melveny & Myers in Los Angeles, where she worked for clients such as Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin's Tandem/T.A.T. Productions. At the time, the company was thriving with such sitcoms as "Diff'rent Strokes" and "The Facts of Life," and it was, Shaw says, a "tremendous, immersive experience."

Lear also was "very much at the forefront of hiring women," adds Shaw. "The business side of his world was so far advanced in hiring, and frankly [even to] right now," she says.

Shaw later became partner at Dern, Mason, Swerdlow and Floum, and in 1989 started her own firm with Ernest Del - Del, Shaw, Moonves, Tanaka & Finkelstein.

That move was her "best option at the time," she says, because small boutique entertainment firms, those representing the top of the business, were "hard to get into."

"I found them to have virtually no interest in someone like me," she says, even though she was a graduate from a top law school. "It was disappointing. It wasn't surprising."

Shaw did not fear going out on her own - nor did she entertain another career path. "The idea of just giving up and going back home - not one moment did that come to mind," she says.

Shaw was born and raised in Harlem, and remembers watching "The Defenders" as a kid. …

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