Talent agent Tracy Christian was once told, “You should either be a madame or an agent.” The choice was simple for the then- thrill-seeking 20-something: “I didn’t want to go to jail.”
Encouraged by friends like Joseph Dougherty and the late John Singleton, Christian dove headfirst into the entertainment industry. Immediately, she was struck by the lack of diversity.
“I got an offer to go to a large agency that is like the number one agency in town. But when I walked in, they didn’t even have Black janitors, much less Black agents,” she said. It was assumed she would work well with the organization’s sole Black person, but that was far from the reality. “It didn’t feel warm. It didn’t feel welcoming,” Christian said of the work environment. “I definitely came up in the era of your boss throwing a coffee cup at your head.”
The criminally low wages and sadistic management fed Christian’s self-doubt, particularly about her ability to thrive in the industry as a Black woman. “I was already intimidated by my vision of an agent,” she explained. “What my environment told me was it was a white man and he had an East coast education and he was probably like a film snob and he could tell you who directed this movie and who wrote that and this version. And I didn’t feel like I knew any of that. I felt like I’m a smart girl who knows how to find an answer.”
The answer, at that time, for Christian was to move on to another company. She made the choice before job-hopping prompted LinkedIn photoshoots and “pivot” became a buzzword. Being bullied, and belittled was not a growth strategy she appreciated so she split and shopped herself around town.
Christian learned the value of seeking more from her grandmother. The mother of three, whose Marine husband was gone most of the year, would stand in line daily at a Boeing factory in Seattle in the hopes that she could pick up a few hours on their assembly line. She would arrive at “four, five o’clock in the morning and stand in line with a bunch of men. And then the foreman would say, ‘Well, Okay, we need two people today,’” Christian recalled. Her grandmother’s willingness to brave physical intimidation, gender, and sex discrimination to, eventually, land a full-time job placed office politics in perspective for the budding talent agent.
“If that’s where I come from, do you think that some white boys telling me no is ever going to stop me? Christian asked before answering her own question. “That would have been unacceptable and alien in my family. We are competitors. We were bred to win.”
Christian landed at a boutique agency where she stayed for seven years, learning new skills and climbing the company ladder before starting her own company, TCA MGMT. Today her clientele includes Tisha Campbell (Martin, Harley Quinn), Jeremy Piven (Entourage, Smokin’ Aces), Jordan Calloway (Black Lightning), Curtiss Cook (The Chi), Mekai Curtis (Power Book III: Raising Kanan) and Roger Guenveur Smith (Do the Right Thing, Malcolm X) and Mona Scott-Young.
Well established now, Christian is still “approaching things as a novice.” She’s also looking to confront longstanding assumptions that have led to gender and racial equality in the industry. “As our power as a Black community changes in the marketplace, as women are more esteemed and appreciated in the marketplace, I’m working to cast out and dispel whatever notions of a glass ceiling previously existed for me.”
The cultural exposure Christian’s parents gave her growing up in Newark and San Francisco helped her connect to clients and colleagues. She understood Blaxploitation references, could identify duwop classics, had an appreciation for dystopian classics, and a mature culinary palette.
“There is an expectation if you’re Black, what your life is supposed to be or what your likes are supposed to be. And my parents defied that at every, every opportunity,” she said. “I was watching a Clockwork Orange, which I should not have been, but they exposed me to that as well,” she recalled. Her breath of knowledge was particularly useful for starting her own business. “Most agents work in a specific discipline, but because I own the company I get to work wherever I find interesting; it’s thrilling.”
Christian’s experiences as a Hollywood outsider also make her want to fight harder for her clients. “As a person of color, as a woman, as someone who I don’t have an uncle or an aunt in the business, I did learn how to advocate for myself and that you get what you negotiate, not what you deserve,” she said. “The corniest line ever was ‘It’s not personal it’s business.’ There’s nothing more personal than how you feed yourself.
“My business is very personal to me,” the entrepreneur continued. “When I close a deal, it means that my staff is able to put his son through college. That’s very personal. That’s very important. So every deal, every opportunity means everything.”
She values professional chemistry and appreciates her clients like Guenveur Smith who left another company to support her business. “He left William Morris to ride with me because Roger believes you put your money where your mouth is. I only want to be in business with people that I respect enough, and I trust enough that I’m willing to go to the mattresses for them,” she said.
Beyond clients, Christian also considers how her deals impact consumers. “We have the ability to create pop culture, what we know about other countries, other communities, we learn through films, through music, through books, and that’s what I do for a living, so it never gets old.”
TCA is now expanding into film production and finding other ways to make a difference. “We’re expanding as many other agencies are contracting. We’re opening an East coast office and developing different departments within our company. Finding the edges, testing the limits. That’s where the fun comes in.”
“The fun is not swimming at the end of the pool where I knew I could put my feet down and stand up,” she continued. “My job is to find the deepest. I find the deep end in terms of money, in terms of opportunity, in terms of art, always going to the deep end. That’s what’s interesting.”