Hollywood one-upmanship took a turn into politics this week, as leading talent agency CAA followed in the footsteps of rivals WME and UTA by hastily announcing a day-long summit of political leaders for Thursday.
Who could blame them given the national attention their competitors have grabbed with gestures like forming an in-house political action committee and cancelling a lavish Oscar party in favor of an anti-immigration rally in the middle of Beverly Hills?
On Wednesday morning, CAA announced it would hold a “day-long, nonpartisan summit” on Thursday — featuring conversations with Senator Kamala Harris, former Senator Barbara Boxer and Muslim Public Affairs Council Founder Salam Al-Marayati, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards, to name a few. (Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the House Majority Leader, is one of the only Republicans scheduled to participate.)
The surprise program falls just one day before UTA’s “United Voices” rally, an event designed to “stand against policies of exclusion and division.” The Jeremy Zimmer-run agency announced the rally with the simultaneous cancellation of its Oscar celebration and a $250,000 donation to the ACLU in early February.
Stars such as Jodie Foster, Michael J. Fox, Reza Aslan and Keegan-Michael Key have agreed to address the crowd. Clients like Jai Courtney, Ted Danson, James Franco, Minka Kelly, Emily Ratajkowski, Retta and Seth Rogen will also attend.
But the agencies’ new push into political advocacy could have its down side — even in a town and industry well known for its left-leaning activism. “I see it backfiring,” said one top manager who works with all three agencies, speaking to TheWrap on the condition of anonymity.
“Clients want to know they are working for them, not spending so much time trying to outdo each other with political statements,” the insider added.
WME, run by Co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell, arguably started the trend when they told employees they would form a federal political action committee — only an hour before UTA announced their rally.
Its mission, according to an internal memo from Emanuel, is “convening internal and external forums with politicians and allied stakeholders.”
But there are risks for WME to launch an entire division that deviates from its core business and thrusts the company into a treacherous political arena.
Emanuel surprsied many in the industry last November by meeting with President Trump — a former client — in Washington, D.C,. only days after the election. The president called the agent the “King of Hollywood,” which prompted speculation about his role in the administration and how Hollywood might cooperate with it.
WME Global Finance and Distribution Partner Leisl Copland however, used her considerable address book as a key organizer of the Women’s March on Main Street — a defiant march through the Sundance Film Festival featuring actresses, producers, below-the-line talent and Utah woman decrying Trump.
And CAA has recently stepped up its representation of political figures. The agency recently signed Boxer, former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett, former VP Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden.