The independent full-service representation firm M88 took over Bootsy Bellows in West Hollywood, Calif., on Sunday night for a post-BET Awards celebration, toasting to the night’s host — and the firm’s client — Taraji P. Henson.
After rocking at least seven looks during the show, the Oscar and Emmy nominee changed into a black sequined number with matching shades to take her place as the guest of honor, perched at a table next to the DJ booth.
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And the superstar wasn’t partying alone — Bootsy Bellows was packed to the gills with stars well into the wee hours of Monday morning.
BET presenter Lena Waithe and Cynthia Erivo went from dancing in their seats during the award show to hitting the dance floor with the likes of Macro’s Charles D. King at the party, where DJ Meel kept the energy flowing while partygoers sipped custom cocktails from sponsors Ciroc, DeLeon and Red Bull.
The guest list for the party, which was also presented by Amazon Studios, included Mj Rodriguez (who also presented at the awards), DJ D-Nice (who made his way over after spinning BET’s post-show reception), Jesse Williams, Jermaine Dupri, Chaka Zulu, Kenny Hamilton, Lalah Hathaway, G Herbo, Naturi Naughton, Shaun Ross, Bryan Michael Cox, Lenny S, Elijah Kelley and Jemele Hill.
Just as the BET broadcast set out to celebrate “the culture’s biggest night,” the M88 party hit on the same vibe.
“To be able to celebrate Taraji and the BET Awards — which I never think gets enough shine, even though it’s as important as any other award show — and then celebrate the excellence in the community, and giving them a venue to come party, I think it’s really cool,” M88 Co-Founder Phillip Sun told Variety after the event.
For M88 partner Oronde Garrett, who represents Henson alongside Sun, it was a nice opportunity to make sure the star felt at home with her new team. “She was enamored by the support she received and the love,” Garrett says. “It was good to give that back to her.”
But the party served a dual purpose. Over the last 10 and a half months, M88 has burst onto the Hollywood scene in a big way, nabbing A-list clients like Henson and growing its internal ranks primarily over Zoom. The soiree also marked one of the first times the firm’s team of representatives was able to be in one room.
“It was amazing seeing people face-to-face that you’ve been on Zooms with for a year,” Garrett says, noting that he’s worked out of New York since he boarded the company in October. “You can’t really get a vibe of your employees and the counterparts you work with over a computer, but it was good to see everyone and get the same amount of love across the board.”
Sun agrees, saying the feeling of getting all of the women and people of color that make up the Black-owned and minority-led firm in the same space was truly special.
“It just makes you feel like we’re really accomplishing something,” Sun says. “We’re really bringing people together and bringing the culture together, both with the clients, but also internally.”
Getting the group together for a photo, though, “was like herding cats because everyone was doing their own thing,” he teases. “But, for the one-year anniversary, we’ll get a proper portrait.”
When it comes to photos, the walls of the West Hollywood hot spot were lined with examples of M88’s big wins – magazine covers featuring clients Michael B. Jordan, Naomi Scott, Henson and more, plus clippings about the firm itself. While Sun has his own personal scrapbook of achievements for the firm, the party felt like a visual representation of how things have grown, even under the remote restrictions.
“This is a whole new world order we’re living in right now,” Garrett explains. “The fact that we’re able to sign amazing talent or do amazing deals over a computer and not being in front of someone, that just goes to show you the trust that everyone is starting to have with us, and they see the movement and the mission on their own.”
Since its founding in August 2020, M88’s movement and mission has been to “support and amplify the next generation of artists and cultural leaders from the global new majority.” Garrett, who says it was Sun’s passion about creating the new firm that drew him to it, feels the clientele has also ascribed to the company’s ethos of inclusion.
“We’ve signed about 10 or 15 clients and haven’t even met them face-to-face yet; they believe so much in the passion and the movement so much that they joined the firm,” he adds. “It’s that trust factor. It’s almost like going on a blind date and hoping it works out, because you haven’t met this person and don’t know who you’re dealing with.”
Garrett adds that the success of the firm thus far has also boosted their confidence when looking toward its future: “It’s also been a great learning tool for us. It’s like, ‘We can do this without meeting the person; imagine when we start to meet people and they can really get a chance to see what we’re made of.’ ”
Most importantly though, the party was a visual representation of the space the M88 team, led by Sun, Garrett and their partners Jelani Johnson and Gaby Mena, hope to create both in the business of representation in entertainment and for the culture at large.
“Oronde and myself have spent our entire careers making sure our clients get what they deserve, which is mainstream everything. They’re the center of culture,” Sun says. “And it was time, also on the representation side, for us to come out of the shadows, if you will, and have a representation firm that is mainstream — Black-owned and minority-led — to swing with the top brass. It’s our job to make sure that all avenues of culture are celebrated in the limelight as they should be.”
But Sun and Garrett affirm that the mission won’t be a success without including allies. And that means both those who do not identify as people of color and representatives from other firms and agencies.
“We invited other friends and colleagues from other management companies and other agencies,” Garrett says, explaining that it’s been important to the team that M88’s approach stand out. “One thing that Phil and I pretty much raised the flag on is that this company is going to be opposite of anything that feels elite. We wanted something different, and we wanted the client to feel like it was different.”
That’s why, Sun says, it was important to invite representatives from the other major management and talent agencies to the event. “There’s no territory here. The culture wins, we all win,” he explains. “We’re an inclusive group, across the board.”
“I think [the party] also gave representatives of color at each individual rep firm a real place to go,” Sun continues. “A lot of the representatives of color are younger, because representation hasn’t traditionally been somewhere where people of color thrive. I think now you’re starting to see a potential windfall, and definitely a pipeline, if done correctly, and we just want to be supportive of all their growth.”
“And we also want to do business with everyone in town,” Garret chimes in. “That’s our motto.”
As Hollywood begins to get back into a more normal rhythm and Sun starts looking at the future of M88, he says the company is focused on growing, not just in number, but in influence.
“We’re going to grow purposely and intentionally, but we’re going to go after growth aggressively, because culture in all sorts of verticals all across the board, not just traditional business,” Sun explains. “You can see with the UNCMMN group and our parent company Macro, we’re gonna go after every vertical that we need to represent the culture correctly. Our whole thing is making sure the cultures represented correctly, so we’ve got to go with culture goes, which is everywhere.”
As the company grows, Sun explains, there isn’t a cap on the size or scale of M88’s plans. The company intends to scale the amount of employees based on bandwidth. “We have to expand to where our artists expand to and where the culture goes, and those numbers will by necessity go up.”
Likewise, the party is planned to be the first of many.
“I think the goal would be for us to have a presence at every huge event – the Emmys, the Oscars, Sundance, Tribeca Film Festival,” Garrett explains. “Anywhere that we can be a part of the culture and its entertainment aspect, we want to do something there.”
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