CAA Amplify Summit Highlights Diversity, Reproductive Healthcare And Navigating Social Media

CAA returned to Ojai to celebrate and discuss diversity, intersectionality and social justice initiatives across the entertainment industry as part of the agency’s sixth annual CAA Amplify summit.

Organized by a multicultural staff of CAA agents and executives, the daylong event Tuesday featured moderated panel conversations ranging from Planned Parenthood president and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson to singer-actor siblings Halle and Chloe Bailey.

CAA co-head of Motion Picture & International Film Groups Maha Dakhil kicked off the event noting the importance of acknowledging and trying to resolve the complex racial and social boundaries that can often hinder minority talents in Hollywood.

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“One of our greatest powers at CAA has always been the power to convening highlight influential people of color from entertainment and industries beyond. The act of convening culture makers was a revolution we were waiting for,” Dakhil said. “[As people of color], we are not just in the room; we are the room. We are a room of many colors, many cultures. We’re a room of allies. There is so much talent, knowledge, artistry, power and innovation pulsing through this room right now. [We need to ask ourselves], ‘Why are we here? What can we get done together? What is our responsibility?’ Our resilience is being tested. Our community is being challenged. We’re being distracted daily by threats, existential and direct. Every year, we dare to dream that the times will change. The times do not change. We change the times.”

In a talk with moderator Jurnee Smollett, Johnson addressed the recent multi-state backlash on abortion access that has resulted in 20 states that have near or total bans on reproductive health care, which means that one out of three women, trans and non-binary people can no longer get access to it in their state. Smollett turned the conversation towards how movie studios can be more helpful and place the pressure on progressive legislation when below-the-line crew are often expected to relocate themselves and their families for months on end, oftentimes in more conservative states, during a shoot.  

“I’ve actually spent the better part of my year in conversation with CEOs and leaders, university presidents as well, who are these folks sitting in these privileged positions. They [acknowledge] that is bad for people, and this is also really bad for business,” Johnson said. “We have a really important inside-outside kind of strategy that we have to play here as an organizer [at Planned Parenthood], that oftentimes is to just be loud and call out [the responsible party]. And God bless Disney for standing up to the Don’t Say Gay bill in Florida. As soon as they did that, what it did for those of us who are organizers is it demonstrated the power and force of the ‘anti’s’ to come forward and push back on what those efforts are because they’re trying to destroy any opportunity for activism there. We have to start having more conversations around what it would mean for CEOs and corporations to have conversations with the state House and the chambers of commerce first to explain the impact of their bans on the workforce.”

CAA also highlighted its younger talent that has managed to navigate the ebbs-and-flows of the industry, especially when it comes to being perceived negatively online. Chloe and Halle Bailey joined Jenna Park Adler, their agent and co-head of the Hip-Hop/R&B Touring division, to discuss the challenges of being young women in the spotlight.

“Of course, we’re human beings and [reading comments online] hurts,” Chloe said regarding engaging with the critical discourse surrounding her sex scene in Prime Video’s Swarm. “But something we constantly tell ourselves is that if [people] are talking about you, you’re doing something right. That’s how I deal with that. It’s funny because I’ll take Halle’s phone away, and at the same time, I just take the apps off my phone. And if I post, I’ll just download it just to post and then delete it again. Because I don’t want outside opinions to dictate how I live my life or how I make my creative choices. We would literally kill ourselves trying to please everybody. Say you do everything perfectly right, there’ll be that one person saying, ‘Hmm, that’s a little messed up.’ And it has nothing to do with you, that has something to do with them. So why obsess over something we can never change or have control over?”

Dealing with the controversy surrounding her being cast as the first live-action Black Disney princess for her titular role in the remake of The Little Mermaid, Halle said it was a lesson dictated by self-preservation.

“It’s been a really big lesson for me of just self-control and what it means to just ignore and not let certain really hurtful things get to you. It’s a big lesson that I feel like I’m still learning every single day. Everyone has an opinion and people will just say anything, and if you read [the comments], you can go crazy and everything else,” she said. “But I find that I just try to put a force field around myself and my sister and people that I love, and we keep God first and focus on that and the things that make us happy.”

Other speakers highlighted Tuesday included athletes Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul, director Ava DuVernay (Selma), director Blitz Bazawule (The Color Purple), political journalist Anand Giridharadas, author and LGBTQ activist George M. Johnson, The Honest Company CEO Carla Vernón and founder-actor Jessica Alba, alongside showrunner Sierra Ornelas (Rutherford Falls) and star Steven Yeun (Beef) who shared personal anecdotes about reconciling with their cultural upbringings.

Since 2017, the agency has dedicated in-house research via its Motion Picture Cast Diversity Index to determine the correlative factors of diverse casting and audiences with box office success and its impact on business for representation in motion picture programming. In 2020, the agency also launched CAA Scholars, which aims to strengthen the company’s inclusion efforts by offering multi-year scholarships, fellowships and mentorships from colleges across the U.S. with higher Black and brown populations.

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