Nina Shaw: From Harlem to Hollywood

Cyril Josh Barker | 2/28/2019, 9:33 a.m.
Harlem and Bronx native Nina Shaw is one of Hollywood’s top entertainment attorneys.
Nina Shaw

Harlem and Bronx native Nina Shaw is one of Hollywood’s top entertainment attorneys. Her list of clients includes filmmaker Ava DuVernay, actress Lupita Nyong’o, author Ta-Nehisi Coates, James Earl Jones, actor Laurence Fishburne, ballerina Misty Copeland and newly crowned Oscar winning actress Regina King.

Shaw’s work includes negotiating movie deals for some of the most well-known entertainers. She is a founding partner of Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano, which specializes in entertainment law in television, film and live stage. Today, Shaw splits her time between New York and Los Angeles.

Born in Harlem, Shaw’s family moved to the Bronx where she attended William Howard Taft High School. She said during a recent interview with the AmNews she became interested in law when she saw Black legal figures in the Black press.

“I never met a lawyer until I was a teenager,” Shaw said. “I saw lawyers on TV but I learned about Black lawyers and judges reading the Amsterdam News and EBONY. I read about Thurgood Marshall and Constance Baker Motley. I learned that there were Black people fighting on our behalf to benefit our community.”

Shaw would go on to graduate from Barnard College in 1976 and Columbia University Law School in 1979. Deciding to go into entertainment law, she dived into the field head first working in the entertainment department of the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers. The firm represented famed television producer Norman Lear, and Shaw did legal work for sitcoms such as “The Jeffersons,” “Sanford and Son” and “One Day at at Time.”

“I’ve always had a real love for the arts,” she said. “My mother was great at taking advantage of the free things in New York City. I went to the museum at least once a week and I also went to the theater and shows at Lincoln Center.”

Shaw was founding partner of her current firm, Del Shaw Moonves Tanaka Finkelstein & Lezcano, in 1989 that today has 23 lawyers. Shaw’s many career accolades include being named repeatedly to The Hollywood Reporter’s “Women in Entertainment Power 100” list, a recipient of the WIF Crystal Award, named “Entertainment Lawyer of the Year” by the Beverly Hills Bar Association in 2013. ESSENCE magazine honored Shaw with the “2016 Black Women in Hollywood Power” award.

However, Shaw’s work isn’t limited to negotiating deals for Hollywood’s biggest stars, she is also using her platform to advocate for equality in the entertainment industry. Shaw is a founding organizer of the Time’s Up movement, which fights for fair treatment and equal pay in the workplace in the entertainment industry and beyond. Women of color, she says, experience some of the most oppression in entertainment.

“Women of color face significant prejudice,” Shaw said. “I got involved because I’ve been outspoken about these issues. The Times Up Legal Defense Fund has raised $24 million in one year that’s being used to fund over 100 cases that are being litigated for men and women all over the country. We continue to work on our mission which is equity, fairness and safety in the workplace.”

Shaw was recently honored at her alma mater, Columbia University Law School, with the “Medal for Excellence.” The award is the school’s highest honor presented annually to alumni and past or present faculty members.

“None of us are too small not to have our voices heard and none of us are too big not be held accountable,” she said during her acceptance speech.