Nina Shaw ’76, a founding partner at the law firm Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano, deals with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry: Her clients include Lupita Nyong’o, James Earl Jones, Laurence Fishburne, John Legend, Ava DuVernay, and Ta-Nehisi Coates.
She’s also widely recognized for her role as a founding organizer of Time’s Up, a movement aimed at ending sexual assault, harassment, and inequality in the workplace.
On March 18, Shaw — also a member of Barnard’s Board of Trustees — joined President Sian Leah Beilock in conversation for an exclusive online event, presented by Beyond Barnard as part of the Insights: Powered by Barnard series, to discuss entertainment law, advocacy, and the responsibility of leaders to support women at work.
“If you’re going to be a woman and you’re going to be a boss in the workplace, then you really owe it to yourself to be a model for the things that you say you believe in,” Shaw said.
Throughout her impressive career, Shaw has been named repeatedly to The Hollywood Reporter’s “Women in Entertainment Power 100” list, received the WIF Crystal Award, was honored as the Entertainment Lawyer of the Year by the Beverly Hills Bar Association in 2013, and and was the subject of a feature profile in The New York Times. Most recently, she was featured in Harper’s Bazaar’s August 2020 issue as one of the changemakers who are reshaping the way we think about art, identity, and progress.
Read key insights from Shaw and Beilock’s discussion below:
On the obligation leaders have to support working women and working parents:
Nina Shaw: “I’m always mindful of how extraordinarily blessed I am to be able to have held jobs open for my employees. That was really the main focus for me and my partners in this period of time: We wanted as little disruption as possible for our employees, many of whom are women, and most of them are parents, and some of them are single parents. It was so important to us that they feel that the one thing they didn’t have to worry about was their jobs.... We have an obligation even when we don’t have children to working women and working parents in the workforce.”
On how the pandemic has impacted the entertainment industry:
“Our business was already in a kind of a digital time warp in other words a period of great disruption caused by the digital distribution model. The advent of the streaming services in the last few years had already tremendously changed the distribution business. Something that we all anticipated was the collapsing of the period of time, the window, between when a movie appears in the theatre and when you the consumer can see it in your home but we anticipated that collapse would take place over a period of years — instead it happened in a matter of months. There’s no going back to the pre-pandemic distribution model, and it has impacted the financial structure of deal making, because so much of talent’s compensation, especially in the big blockbuster movie business, was traditionally based on the success and the economics of how a movie performed in its initial theatrical distribution. All of a sudden, if you’re like me a talent representative, you’re trying to figure out how the new distribution model in a vertically structured media company is impacting the overall economics of the pre-pandemic deals that you make for your clients and what those deals will look like in the new client.”
On the importance of being an advocate in her industry:
“What I do is both a mixture of law and business, so I spend a lot of time working with my teammates who are usually agents and managers trying to really fashion an entire career. Right now, there’s a big dispute about the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which puts on the Golden Globe [Awards]. A big part of that is that they own a piece of real estate that comes up very early in the awards cycle and impacts the rest of awards. Awards are not just, as Ava DuVernay says, ‘shiny things’: They determine money. It’s very typical for someone to get a cash payment for a nomination and a cash payment for a win. [Advocating for change in the Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s racial makeup] is a really good example of how doing something that is not specifically part of representing a client ultimately comes back to representing the client.”
On how attending Barnard helped her at Columbia Law School:
“The big distinction when I got to Columbia Law School, where women were so much in the minority, was that I wasn’t really accustomed to not being heard. Because I was always heard — not always appreciated — but always heard at Barnard. The first time I was in a law school classroom where I gave the right answer and then they went to someone else who gave the same answer as me, I remember saying, like yelling out, ‘And what was wrong with that answer when I gave it?’ Because I was really accustomed to people listening to me. And I think that was one of the advantages in coming from a women’s college and specifically coming from Barnard, where women were just in charge of things.”
On why she joined Barnard’s Board of Trustees:
“I don’t necessarily think that you had to have loved Barnard while you were there to appreciate, as you grow older, what it meant to you. Because I came to Barnard at a very difficult time in the College’s history, I was in that first group of Black women who came to Barnard in significant numbers. And it was very difficult for us. One of the reasons why I’ve remained involved over the years and even more so in the last few years is that I think I really owe it to the current students of Barnard. I felt it was important for students to look up and to see that there were people like them. My mission now is to let Barnard students who look like me know that this is what’s possible.”
*Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Watch the full conversation between Shaw and Beilock below: