In 2010, attorney Jaia Thomas combined her legal expertise and background in the sports and entertainment industry to create her very own law practice, The Law Office of Jaia Thomas which primarily “focuses on providing quality and customized legal solutions to corporations and individuals in all facets of the sports and entertainment industry.”
Recently the Los Angeles Sentinel Newspaper sat down with Thomas to discuss her practice and push for diverse representation in the sports and entertainment industry and why it matters.
Throughout her career, Thomas heard snide remarks about her gender and ethnicity and how that should affect her ability to adequately represent her clients.
“Being a Black woman who is an attorney, from the time I have started my career until now, I have always heard side comments from people about what they think an effective attorney needs to look like ie) a White male, a Jewish male… I have heard comments like that my entire career and it’s even worse when it comes from people who look like you,” said Thomas.
During her career, Thomas met many Black athletes and actors who had a predominantly White team representing them in the courtroom and in their professional careers.
“I’m a big advocate for recycling money within our own communities and there’s no reason why more of us shouldn’t be hiring Black lawyers, Black agents, and Black publicists. For me this is something that I have always complained about but last year was the tipping point,” she said.
“After that I started to ask more Black actors and actresses ‘why don’t you have a Black person on your team?’ and a lot of them would say ‘I don’t know any Black publicists, I don’t know any Black agents.’”
In the words of Thomas, “that’s when the light bulb went on” for her. Soon after, she began using her frustration as a tool to create Diverse Representation, an initiative that would increase the amount of exposure for Black attorneys, agents, managers, publicists who are working in the sports and entertainment industry.
Diverse Representation is a free resource and free online database that offers a list of all the Black agents, publicists, and attorneys to clients who are in these prospective industries as well as networking events throughout the country.
The primary goal of Diverse Representation is to eliminate the excuse “I don’t know any Black agents, attorneys, or publicists.”
“When we talk about diversity in entertainment, my big issue is that we always focus on the people that we see on screen and those really aren’t the people that have the power,” said Thomas.
“It’s really the agents, the executives, and the attorneys, those are the people who are the power players in this entire industry and those people are still very White and I am advocating to shift that conversation about diversity and entertainment and really talk about the people who are behind the scenes.”
Since launching in mid-2018, Diverse Representation held a kick-off event at Lionsgate headquarters. The event featured a panel conversation on diversity and entertainment with director of development and production, Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, Dana Gills; CAA talent agent CAA, Brandon Lawrence; The Mission Entertainment talent manager, Andrew Coles; Akerman LLP attorney Rebecca Beliard; and PS Media Talent publicist, Francis Perdue.
Recent events produced by Diverse Representation included an invite-only networking brunch with African-American sports agents, attorneys, managers, team executives and special guests in Charlotte, North Carolina during NBA All-Star weekend and a panel conversation during Sundance Film Festival which was the first of its kind.
Currently Diverse Representation offers membership options as well as the following benefits:
“I feel like all of the Black publicists should know all of the Black agents and all the Black attorneys should know all the Black agents. We need to do a better job of referring business to one another. We all have to know each other in order for us to do that. We also need to build a very tight network amongst each other and that’s a part of the perks of membership, being able to share referrals and events that you are doing.”
By the end of the year, Thomas hopes that every person of color working in these industries will become aware of the Diverse Representation database. Thomas also told the Sentinel that she would like to see “more Black talent [and athletes] having Black reps.”
Presently Diverse Representation is planning events in New York and Atlanta as well as other cities. To find out how you can connect with Black agents, attorneys, and publicists visit www.diverserepresentation.com. For more information on Jaia Thomas please visit www.jathomaslaw.com