Entertainment

The Fallout – The Hollywood Reporter

Last November, CAA held a town hall on antisemitism, part of a series hosted through CAA’s Amplify Presents program, described as “a network of changemakers” working toward “systemic change for communities of color.” The program was introduced by agent Maha Dakhil, who said it was “focused on fighting antisemitism and promoting allyship.” Next up was CAA co-chairman Richard Lovett. “This morning, we will learn once again how much words matter,” he said, “and the damage caused by human beings with large platforms who do not use their platforms responsibly.”

Twelve months later, Dakhil finds herself at the center of a firestorm ignited by her own use of a large platform: Instagram, where she had 27,000 followers before she locked her account and deleted her posts. In the wake of her comments on the Israel-Hamas War, Aaron Sorkin fired her. High-level Hollywood executives including Spyglass Media chairman and CEO Gary Barber, as well as chairman and CEO of Sony’s Motion Picture Group Josh Greenstein, called CAA leadership to express their concern. Steven Spielberg’s people quickly had IMDb delete information on two pages – his and hers – that had erroneously listed her as one of his agents.

As has been widely discussed in Hollywood, on Oct. 18 – more than a week after Hamas’ terrorist attack on Israel – Dakhil reposted a statement from an account called Free Palestine that read, “You’re currently learning who supports genocide.” Dakhil added, “That’s the line for me.” She then posted a photo captioned, “What’s more heartbreaking than witnessing genocide? Witnessing the denial that genocide is happening.”

Manager Guy Oseary, an Israeli-American who represents Dakhil’s longtime client and friend Madonna, says he called Dakhil when he saw the first post. “I mentioned to her that the posts could be very triggering for your Jewish friends. There’s a word in there and how it’s laid out could be very triggering,” he says. “She didn’t realize it would be a trigger for people.” 

Dakhil quickly took the posts down and issued an apology: “I made a mistake with a repost on Instagram story, which used hurtful language. Like so many of us, I have been reeling with heartbreak. I pride myself on being on the side of humanity and peace. I’m so grateful to Jewish friends and colleagues who pointed out the implications and further educated me. I immediately took the repost down. I’m sorry for the pain I have caused.”

Dakhil also began to work the phones, calling people to apologize. But within days, she lost her role as co-head of motion pictures and resigned from the agency’s internal board, for the time being. Within agency ranks, however, there is still tension. CAA declined to comment.

Among those who know or have worked with Dakhil, none have said they believe she is antisemitic. But some thought her posts were inconsistent with her image as a social-justice warrior, present at the founding of the ill-fated Times Up. “She always puts herself front and center” on such issues, says a colleague, “And then there’s [the Instagram posts] that do not jibe.”

According to sources, Dakhil – unanimously praised as a highly effective agent – was on the brink of signing a major new deal at the agency. It’s not clear whether the terms will change now that she is no longer holding leadership positions.

CAA leaders — already dealing with tension over the distribution of money in the wake of a change in ownership and a lawsuit alleging the agency was complicit in sending clients to meetings with Harvey Weinstein — have been laboring to save Dakhil’s career at the agency, reaching out to both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, with which the agency had a pre-existing partnership. The ADL confirms that Dakhil has been in talks with CEO and national director Jonathan Greenblatt but declines to provide further information. The AJC has provided a tutor.

But some in Hollywood are not convinced that Dakhil, the daughter of Libyan immigrants, needs tutoring, or that she could have been unaware of the impact of her words. Some industry insiders have passed around a strongly worded letter to the editor that Dakhil had sent to the UCLA Daily Bruin in 1996 when she was an undergraduate. 

The letter is hardly some kind of smoking antisemitic gun. Dakhil complained about the Bruin‘s account of a rally to protest an Israeli attack in southern Lebanon that killed 106 people. She objected to the paper’s characterization of the rally as a Muslim event when “people of all colors, races and religions were present.” She also noted that the article in question failed to mention “brutal Israeli forces [who] mercilessly raided innocent victims in Lebanon.”

To detractors, the 1996 letter reveals that Dakhil was outspoken about conflicts in the Middle East even as a teenager. “It shows that you have a long history with a very specific thought process,” says a former colleague. ”You went to UCLA in the ’90s, you were so vocal that you wrote a letter, then you became an agent, you’re on the board of CAA, and now you say your Jewish friends are educating you?”

Says a multi-hyphenate CAA client: “I was more stunned by the stupidity of it – an agent whose company represents so many Jewish icons, to post something like that,” says this person. “To use [ignorance] as an excuse was getting a lot of eye-rolling.”

Likely because the issues are so polarizing, few have stepped forward publicly either to praise or condemn Dakhil. Ava DuVernay posted a photo of a smiling Dakhil captioned, “My brilliant agent, Maha Dakhil, A true gem,” but DuVernay did not respond to a request for comment. J.J. Abrams wrote a letter in support of Dakhil to agency leadership but didn’t make it public. On the other side of the coin, Dan Erlij, a senior UTA television agent, posted: “Apparently ‘the line’ for getting fired in this town is NOT posting hate speech that is also demonstrably false on the public platform. Who knew?”

Inside the agency, the waters are still roiling. Says a CAA insider: “We all wonder, what did Steven say? What did Natalie say? What about Salma?” Israel-born Natalie Portman, a Dakhil client, is said to be exploring a possible change in representation. She declined to comment. Dakhil is said to be very close to client Salma Hayek, whose husband, François-Henri Pinault, just acquired a majority interest in CAA, and whose father is a Mexican of Lebanese heritage. Hayek, too, declined to comment. 

One former associate says some of her detractors simply resent her success. “She’s been on a rocketship of growth, and there’s a certain amount of schadenfreude,” he says. “But I never saw her be an asshole. Maybe judgmental – there’s no vulnerability there. She has a very tough veneer. Obviously, in our sexist society, a guy gets credit for that, and a woman gets called a bitch. But I was always very impressed with her. She earned her success, which is sometimes hard there.” Says another former insider: “When you’re a hardcore person like that and the tide turns on you, everybody wants to bring you down.”

To some in Hollywood, Dakhil’s troubles stem in part from her disregard of the credo embraced by Lew Wasserman and CAA co-founder Mike Ovitz: The agent should never be the story. Dakhil has been especially public, through advocacy and through her relationships with clients. She posted pictures of herself with such clients as Tom Cruise and, of course, Madonna, who Dakhil called her “dear sister” in a now-deleted Instagram post from an August celebration of the superstar’s 65th birthday. (One photo showed Madonna kissing Dakhil, tongue out, in the backseat of a car, seemingly a callback to the 2003 moment when the star kissed Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the MTV Video Awards.) 

Such images have led some detractors to say that Dakhil had come to see herself as talent. A CAA insider recalls an Instagram post of Dakhil primping in a bathroom at Cannes. “That was a tipping point for people rolling their eyes at her Instagram,” this person says. One former colleague asks, “Do you know an agent with 27,000 Instagram followers?” 

Another issue raised by several industry insiders is why Dakhil is being allowed to apologize and get tutoring when CAA abruptly fired popular agent Jay Baker in 2021 after he made a joke that offended manager Jewerl Keats Ross. Ross, who along with Baker represented Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, had asked Baker to arrange a screening so he could watch an actress who was being considered for an upcoming project. Baker responded that the request reminded him of a crack-addict scene from ‘Menace 2 Society’” and sent a YouTube link from the film.

In a subsequent email, Ross said he had initially laughed but later reconsidered. “I am a Black man in America,” he wrote. “No Black man in America wants to think that a white person thinks that asking for a favor is like asking for crack.” Baker apologized but was fired after 20-plus years at the agency.

“I think people should be given a chance to reform,” says one producer, but that’s not how they’ve done business.”

A former colleague notes that Baker and Dakhil used to be close friends, adding, “He was convicted pretty quickly and then bye bye.” Says another: “He made a bad joke. Inappropriate, I’m sure. Did he deserve to be fired for it? That was him trying to be funny… Now, here you have another adult, very knowledgeable on the subject, who says something much worse, and she’s just been demoted off a committee.”

Some are left wondering how the incident will ultimately play out. Will Dakhil be reinstated to her previous positions, as some believe is likely? If not, will she accept the demotion? “It will be interesting to see if there’s a real punishment or not,” says a competitor. “When she walks around town now, people are going to look at her sideways. Words have consequences.” 



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