Voices From Inside the System

‘I’ve Been Telling Hollywood to Hire Black Talent for Years’

Tiauna Jackson became an agent after her friends couldn’t find representation they liked. Now she’s taking on a system that prefers lip service to actual change.

Haley Cohen Gilliland
GEN
Published in
5 min readAug 6, 2020

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Studio setup with lights and camera with a blank slate ready
Photo illustration, source: dpmike/E+/Getty Images

Voices From Inside the System is a new GEN series where we interview people who have had firsthand experience in industries with especially fraught histories of systemic racism. We asked our subjects to think deeply about the role they played and the work they did. We asked them why they stayed or why they left, how they might be complicit, or if they thought they — or anyone — could fundamentally change the system.

Tiauna Jackson, 38, is a Black talent agent and owner of the Jackson Agency. After working as an accountant for nearly a decade (“mostly for wealthy white billionaires”), she started her own agency in 2014. The website Diverse Representation keeps track of Black representatives working at film and television agencies; of the thousands of agents in the industry, the site currently lists only 45 Black agents. Between 1990 and 2015, the percentage of people of color on TV increased to 22% from only 17.8%. According to a 2019 Hollywood diversity report conducted by UCLA, 77% of all film roles in 2017 went to white actors, and only 9% went to Black actors. Tiauna spoke with journalist Haley Cohen Gilliland about her experience.

As a kid growing up in the 1990s, I didn’t put two and two together. I would watch content that I found entertaining. One day, I was binge-watching the Disney channel, and my father happened to walk through the house. “Do you watch anything with Black people on it?” he said. That was the moment that I was like, “Oh wow, he’s right.” That’s when I first became aware of the lack of representation on television.

I made my first two short films when I was 16. Originally, I wanted to be a film editor. When I was in college, my best friend, who is now a writer and director, kept telling me, “T, you should be my agent. T, you should be my agent.”

I was trying to find him representation, and in that way I was acting as his agent. But at the time I thought you…

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Haley Cohen Gilliland
GEN
Writer for

Writer. Words in @nytimes , @natgeo , @Outsidemagazine @VanityFair. Previously covered the American West + Argentina @TheEconomist . www.hcgilliland.com