Melissa Barrera is once again under fire over a series of new social media posts involving the Israeli-Gaza conflict, prompting her representatives at WME and Sugar23 to explore dropping the actress as a client.
The “In the Heights” and “Scream” star earlier this week posted a link in her Instagram bio that directed her followers to donate money to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East to benefit “all the martyrs in Gaza and the West Bank.” The plea was deemed particularly incendiary given that Barrera posted the link one day after the Biden administration and several other countries halted aid to the organization in the wake of explosive allegations that 12 UNRWA staffers directly participated in the Oct. 7 terror attacks in Israel, including two who took part in kidnappings. Ten percent of the agency’s Gaza staff allegedly have ties to Hamas and another Islamist militant group that the U.S. has designated as a terrorist organization. On Jan. 28, the U.S. announced its decision to freeze all money to the group.
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Barrera’s posts quickly made the rounds across the industry and within WME, which consulted with outside advisors on the best approach to fire her given that such a break could spark backlash. (A WME rep denied that outside advisors were enlisted.) Sources say the agency and her management company Sugar23 were poised to drop her as a client. But on Thursday, both decided to reverse course for now. WME and Sugar23 declined comment.
In November, Spyglass Media fired Barrera from “Scream VII” over social media posts about the conflict including one that accused Israel of “genocide and ethnic cleansing” and about distorting “the Holocaust to boost the Israeli arms industry.” Barrera led the fifth and sixth “Scream” entries over the past two years and was poised to star in the next “Scream” outing.
At the time, a Spyglass spokesperson explained the decision in a statement to Variety that read: “Spyglass’ stance is unequivocally clear: We have zero tolerance for antisemitism or the incitement of hate in any form, including false references to genocide, ethnic cleansing, Holocaust distortion or anything that flagrantly crosses the line into hate speech.”
At this month’s Sundance Film Festival, Barrera chanted the controversial line “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” during a pro-Palestinian protest on Main Street that drew nearly 100 activists. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have called the slogan antisemitic and see it as a threat to the continued existence of Israel as a Jewish state. WME was aware of her inflammatory rhetoric, but has continued to represent the actress even as clients and staffers complained, sources say.
But one insider says the new posts from Barrera were deemed to be the “final straw” given the widespread shock over the organization’s ties to the Oct. 7 attacks. The list of countries that have followed the U.S. in freezing funds to the organization include Canada, Australia, Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Finland, Estonia, Japan, Austria and Romania. However, some politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez blasted the Biden administration over its UNRWA decision, calling it “unacceptable.”
As the UNRWA scandal widened, Barrera doubled down and wrote on Instagram: “Guess it’s always up to the people. Made a fundraiser with @unrwa. donate what you can and share [heart emoji] may it be returned to you tenfold.” Another source familiar with the internal debate at WME expressed dismay over its failure to move quickly on the matter.
“Before, WME could hide in the fuzziness and ambiguity of ‘from the river, to the sea’ and the implications of the amateur-hour collegiate activist messaging. But this is blatant terror support,” the source says.
Barrera appeared to be aware of the uproar stirred by her posts. On Jan. 31, she wrote on Instagram, “Apparently some people are mad that I’m sharing this fundraiser.” She did not respond to a request for comment.
In the wake of Oct. 7, a handful of people including Barrera have been dropped from projects and by their representatives and employers over their rhetoric. CAA cut ties with a staffer and two clients over incendiary anti-Israeli social media posts, while UTA fired Susan Sarandon as a client after she said at a rally that U.S. Jews who feel unsafe “are getting a taste of what it feels like to be a Muslim in this country.”
Top CAA agent Maha Dakhil stepped away from her duties as co-chief of the motion pictures department over her Instagram posts, including one that said, “What’s more heartbreaking than witnessing genocide? Witnessing the denial that genocide is happening.” (Dakhil, who represents Tom Cruise and Natalie Portman, apologized and remains an agent.) In perhaps the move with the greatest financial implications, BMG severed its relationship with rock legend and Pink Floyd co-founder Roger Waters over his statements regarding Israel. But some calling for Barrera’s ouster say their outrage has nothing to do with her voicing support for the Palestinian cause but instead for crossing several lines. One source notes that Mark Ruffalo has been vocal about the Israel-Gaza conflict and just nabbed an Oscar nomination for his role in “Poor Things.”
Barrera has one studio project on the way, the Universal horror movie “Abigail.” It is unclear at this time if the studio will put her forward with the marketing campaign and on junkets. Though Barrera’s Hollywood prospects may have dimmed in the wake of her posts, her social media profile has skyrocketed. She now has 1.5 million Instagram followers, twice as many as she had before she called for donations to the UNRWA.
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