Behind WME's Ouster of George Freeman

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WME's headquarters in Beverly Hills

The agent sent a reply-all email on a chain about the Black Lives Matter movement that disparaged colleagues.

George Freeman’s abrupt ouster from WME created a mystery: What was in the “reply-all” email he had inadvertently sent to colleagues that led to his June 18 dismissal after 20 years with the firm?

The incident began when the agency sought feedback from partners on how to respond positively to the Black Lives Matter movement that has many industry leaders making statements to express their commitment to redressing the country’s and Hollywood’s long history of racial injustice and imbalance.

WME has only a handful of Black agents (the agency declined to provide a number) out of about 250 to 300 total but is hardly alone among entertainment companies (or publications that cover the industry) in terms of having failed to reach any meaningful diversity.

Four agents were quick to respond with enthusiasm, according to sources. That prompted Freeman, whose star client for many years has been Russell Crowe, to type a response disparaging them for hypocrisy and virtue-signaling, thinking he was sending his comments to only one associate. (The Hollywood Reporter won't name the agents targeted in Freeman's email due to privacy concerns.)

Freeman called one colleague who has been recognized for efforts to promote diversity a “phony,” according to sources. And in an excerpt obtained by THR, he wrote of a female agent: “Tell me which diverse assistants she’s ever hired helped or promoted? Which piece of diverse talent has she ever championed?” He cited one exception, whom he said this agent “only hooked up to when he became a cause celeb” due to events in the news, but said otherwise “she has never worked to fully back a black, brown, Asian ... [or] LGBTQ artist.”

One veteran producer familiar with the matter say he doubted Freeman would have been fired if WME and its parent, Endeavor, weren't facing financial challenges. But a longtime WME partner says once the email was widely distributed, allowing Freeman to remain became impossible because it would constitute an implied endorsement of the criticisms of the four agents.

Tatiana Siegel contributed reporting.