How Time’s Up Cofounder Nina Shaw Is Fighting For A More Inclusive Hollywood

Moira Forbes
Written by Moira Forbes

As one of Hollywood’s most powerful dealmakers and a founding member of Time’s Up, talent attorney Nina Shaw is steadfast in her mission to bring equality to the entertainment industry. “We’re at a moment in time where we have to choose our sides,” she says. “And I believe I’m on the side that history will look back at and thank profusely. ” Representing some of Tinseltown’s most prominent artists of color, Shaw is clearing a path for those who have historically been underrepresented and overlooked, amplifying the power of their diverse voices along the way.

A founding partner at the firm Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano, Shaw is the negotiator behind such Hollywood heavyweights as Ava DuVernay, Lupita Nyong’o, Misty Copeland, Tracee Ellis Ross, and John Legend, to name a few. The superstar dealmaker grew up in the Bronx against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, an upbringing that infused her law career with greater purpose, instilling in her an ongoing sense of obligation to advance opportunity for others. “It was very difficult to grow up in that time and not feel a great debt to all of the people who were risking their lives to advance your civil liberties, Shaw explains. “To not feel that you owed a debt to society was to be an anomaly.”

Shaw doesn’t tiptoe around what it takes to broker the big deals she knows her roster of A-list clients deserve. “My default is always reasonableness,” she says. “But if you don’t want to do that with me, I will fight you to the ends of the earth.” The upside of her hard-won battles, Shaw believes, extends far beyond the careers of her clients and translates into a win-win for the industry as a whole. “I’m helping to relieve people of a false narrative, of things they believe that aren’t true, but are much more a function of their lack of exposure and their cultural bias,” she explains. “When I can make someone see that a particular performer is someone who they should value in a certain way and pay in a certain way, I’m able to do so often by explaining why that person’s experience is something that you may not understand, but it is valuable. And if I can make you understand it, I can help you to do a better job.”   

Time's Up
Entertainment attorney Nina Shaw. FORBES MEDIA

Last January, Shaw joined forces with a collection of over 300 power players across the entertainment industry to launch Time’s Up, a movement dedicated to combating sexual harassment and workplace inequality. For Shaw, whose tireless commitment to diversity and equal rights has spanned the entirety of her career?, her involvement in the movement was a natural evolution of her life’s work. “It never occurred to me not be involved,” she says. One year later, the Hollywood-born initiative has now come to encompass and represent all aspects of workplace gender-parity, but the journey toward achieving meaningful progress remains ongoing. Shaw stresses the importance of empowering individuals across race, class and community as being crucial to the organization’s future efforts. “I believe that we will only succeed if we are truly intersectional,” she says. “The voices of other women of color and the voices of people across the gender spectrum and in the queer community are all important voices to be part of this.”

From striking mega deals to setting the agenda for driving much-needed change in the entertainment industry and beyond, Shaw is committed to continuing the fight to move culture forward. “At end of the day, this is the career that I’ve chosen,” she says. “This is the place that I’ve decided to live in. I want it to be as good as it can be for all of us.” I recently sat down with the behind-the-scenes power player to discuss giving voice to the voiceless, and what she’s learned as one of the few women leading the legal side of Hollywood. Edited highlights below.

On The Purpose Behind Her Profession

“In my community lawyers were like superheroes. They were people who tried to make the law live up to its potential. And they had names like Thurgood Marshall, and Charles Hamilton Houston, and Constance Baker Motley. And they became lawyers against great odds, and they fought for the rights of people. I always saw law as being a profession that was a public good.”

On Her Work Ethic

“No one works harder than me. And I don’t ask of people things that I’m not willing to do myself. ”

On Privilege And The Fight For Change

“The fight to move culture is always difficult, as is the fight to ask people who have privilege who don’t realize they have the privilege, and who, quite frankly don’t really believe that they are less qualified or, in some cases, are as equally qualified. They always believed that they were better than the people who they’ve been able to systematically exclude from the process.”

We are trying to take away privileges that people are only beginning to realize were a big part of their success.  We’re asking people to look at their lives in an entirely different context, a context that devalues their personal contribution and asks them to look at themselves in the greater societal picture. That asks them to accept the fact that they got jobs that were, in some ways, easier for them to get because an entire 50% of the population got moved out of the competitive pool.”

On Power

“For me, power is about the inherent feeling that you are worthy and entitled to the things that your work and efforts bring to you. And in that sense, I certainly feel powerful.”

On Reminiscing With Her Friend, Anita Hill

“Anita and I were talking about the days when we were law students, working together in Los Angeles. We were such girls in a way that perhaps women of that age now are much more worldly. My trip from New York to Los Angeles might have been only the second or third time I’d been on an airplane. We were just so naive in many ways.”

“Clearly our lives have taken a certain path, and her life in particular has taken a path that is so public and seared into our consciousness. But I wouldn’t want to not be that girl, and I would not want to be more worldly and more exposed. Because I think the fact that I wasn’t that sophisticated in many ways really allowed me to kind of see life through the prism of my very unique experiences and my community for many years.”

On Her Best Parenting Advice

“Parenting is a very competitive thing now.  I always tell my friends, ‘Just don’t tell anyone what you’re doing.’  Because everyone’s going to have a comment and everyone’s going to have an opinion about it. At the end of the day, yours is the only opinion that really matters. If you genuinely want advice, ask for advice. But if you don’t want unsolicited comments on your parenting, don’t volunteer any information.”

On What She Wishes She Knew Then

“Ninety percent of people out there are just focused on themselves, They’re not even thinking about you. You should think a lot less about what other people are thinking and just go what you believe. And while I think I’ve been good about that in my life, I’m human, and I’ve worried from time to time about how I might be perceived. Now I realize, “Who cares?”


This article originally appeared in Forbes.

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About Moira Forbes

Moira Forbes hosts the video series "Success with Moira Forbes." She is publisher of ForbesWomen, a multi-media platform serving successful women in business and leadership. Representing four generations of publishers, Moira joined Forbes in 2001 in its London office. She graduated from Princeton University.