LOS ANGELES, CA––United Talent Agency (UTA) has signed Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and Emmy-nominated filmmaker, as well as his nonprofit media organization Define American, the leading immigration-centric organization in Hollywood. In recent years, Define American has successfully worked with industry executives, showrunners and writers to help develop more realistic depictions of immigrant characters and navigate complex immigration-related storylines with the goal of creating long-lasting cultural change.
Define American was born in June 2011, when the New York Times Magazine published Vargas’s groundbreaking essay “My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.” Through media consulting, original film production, grassroots organizing, and live events across the country, Define American humanizes the conversation on immigration and fights anti-immigrant hate through storytelling. If current demographic trends continue, future immigrants and their descendants will be an even bigger source of population growth, accounting for 88 percent of the U.S. population increase in the next 50 years, according to the Pew Research Center.
“I am thrilled to be represented by UTA, an artist-driven agency that sees their clients fully and holistically. I am especially grateful to be associated with a Hollywood agency that has a strong commitment to philanthropy and addressing urgent social justice issues,” said Vargas.
Since starting Define American, Vargas has produced and directed “Documented,” a feature documentary that aired on CNN, and “White People,” an MTV special that was part of the network’s “Look Different” campaign. Vargas’ memoir, “DEAR AMERICA: Notes Of An Undocumented Citizen” (Dey Street/HarperCollins) hit U.S. bookstores on Tuesday, September 18.
“For many Americans, what they know immigration and immigrants is limited to not only what they read and hear and watch in the news, but what is portrayed in TV shows and movies,” said Elizabeth Grizzle Voorhees, a veteran showrunner who heads Define American’s entertainment media department. “Our alliance with UTA will help us deepen our relationships with some of the top creative entities in the industry.”
UTA will work with Vargas and Define American across multiple disciplines, including news and broadcast, television, theater, digital, and film.
Define American has consulted on more than 43 film and television projects including ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy, NBC’s Superstore, and Hulu’s East Los High. In the past two years alone, Voorhees’s department has worked with 11 networks on 17 television shows and 26 film projects. With this UTA partnership, Define American has launched a development strategy to produce scripted and non-scripted TV, film, digital projects with an inclusive and intersectional focus. With an in-house production team headed by Shauna Siggelkow, Define American has produced original digital content in partnership with Shondaland, Conde Nast, Los Angeles magazine and others.
Define American is committed to providing members of the entertainment community with the tools and resources they need to support their work. In 2017, Define American authored the first-ever Media Reference Guide on Immigrants and Immigration for Entertainment Professionals, which provides helpful definitions and context around immigration-related debates for creatives who are crafting immigrant narratives. The second iteration of the guide will be released in 2018.
This fall, Define American is launching a research study in partnership with The Hollywood Reporter and The Norman Lear Center that explores the representation of immigrant characters in mainstream television programming. The study is scheduled for release in October 2018 and will be launched with a coinciding panel discussion hosted by the Writers Guild of America on Tuesday, October 2, 2018.
“At Define American, we believe that stories play a central role in changing the way people think of an issue as complex and misunderstood as immigration,” said Rev. Ryan Eller, a longtime organizer who serves as Define American’s executive director. “For us, immigration is not only about ‘immigration reform.’ It’s about what our country looks like right now and what kind of culture we are building together.”