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Entertainment lawyer Nina Shaw on trailblazing and MeToo


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Judy Woodruff: On the day Martin Luther King's birthday is celebrated, we end with reflections from Hollywood talent lawyer Nina Shaw.

We profiled her as part our Facebook Watch series "That Moment When."

Shaw is an African-American at the forefront of the entertainment industry's MeToo movement and a trailblazer who shares what it has taken for her to get so far.

Nina Shaw: I remember being at a meeting at 20th Century Fox many, many years ago, and getting into a real argument with the lawyer.

And he got up and he threw a file at me. I mean, it was a big heavy file. And I just ducked. And I just remember thinking afterwards as I was heading back to my office, like, that was like a truly screwed-up thing to do.

The guy physically assaulted me. But I didn't think to call him out on it or call his superiors or anything like that. I just kind of handled it, because I always think, like, you guys are smart, and you're good at what you do, and you're successful, but I don't think you could have lived my life and still be in this room.

And I lived my life, and I'm in this room. And you had every advantage and you're in this room. So, in my mind, that makes me, quite frankly, a little bit better than you.

Steve Goldbloom: Welcome to "That Moment When." I'm Steve Goldbloom.

Nina Shaw's an entertainment lawyer who grew up in Harlem and the Bronx against the backdrop of the civil rights movement and today represents some of the industry's most prominent artists, from Laurence Fishburne to Ava DuVernay.

We spoke about her experience in the business and her efforts to bring equality into the workplace.

Nina Shaw: The environments I have worked in have often been psychologically bruising, have often been scarring in different ways.

But, in my mind, they don't compare to the environments that so many women work in, where they are actually physically unsafe.

I was among the women who were invited to the first Time's Up meeting.

I had already been like a bit of a rabble-rouser in speaking up about something that people didn't like, didn't want to hear. So I spoke of the fact that, if you go to your agent's office, and you sit in that room, and you are the only person of color, you know that is wrong. You know that is unacceptable. And it is your job to say that to the people who represent you.

The New York Times ended up picking up the speech. And I think the title of the article was something like "A Voice From Behind the Scenes Asks Tough Questions."

I mean, I remember I got back to my office, and, immediately, the word had spread. And a number of agents called me and said: "I heard you told our clients to fire us all."

And I said: "No, I didn't tell your clients to fire you. I told you to hire someone who looks like your clients."

We're all fighting for the same thing, which is the end of inequities based on gender and race.

I had a very clear sense as I was growing up that the things that were happening to me and the things that I could take advantage of were all built on the sacrifice of other people.

I always felt this incredible duty.

And it probably was because these things were discussed so openly in my household about what was going on in the civil rights movement of that era.

I always tell the story about how, when my mom was doing chores, I would sit at like the end of an ironing board or I would sit on a stool in the kitchen and I would read The New York Times to her.

And people say, oh, gosh, your mom must have really wanted you to know about news and all of that. And, no, my mom just wanted to know what was going on in The New York Times. And she couldn't read it herself because she was doing something else.

That's how she fully integrated us into the world. I always had this sense of, you have to be a really clear advocate for yourself, because no one else is going to advocate for you.

Steve Goldbloom: What does it feel like to walk into the room and be the only woman and sometimes the only woman of color?

Nina Shaw: Unfortunately, up until recently, it has felt entirely normal.

It has often felt sad and isolating. And it has always been something that I don't want for the people who come behind me or after me.

You can be more open to diversity and inclusion, but I think the tougher issue is, you can be uncomfortable.

Every time you walk into a room and everyone in that room looks just like you, you need to squirm. You need to feel like, this room doesn't work for me, because I think it's only when we reach that point of discomfort, when we reach that point of feeling like, you know what, this is not good.

It's like I'm in a room that's too cold or too hot, and you need to feel it the minute you walk through the door. And I think, until that happens, we're not going to see real change.

Judy Woodruff: So thankful to hear from Nina Shaw.

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