Who is the ‘SEAL Team’ Staffer at the Center of Stephen Miller’s War on Hollywood Diversity?

Aspiring television writer Brian Beneker, whose credits as a script coordinator go back more than 20 years, isn’t the only straight white male to feel that he was being shut out of a writing job because of diversity initiatives. But so far he appears to be the only one willing to seek out Stephen Miller’s America First Legal foundation, associating himself with a Trump world figure who is particularly loathed by progressives.

With his lawsuit against CBS and Paramount alleging that he faced discrimination when he did not get a staff writing job on the CBS military drama SEAL Team, Beneker has become a vehicle through which Miller is waging his war on diversity and inclusion efforts in the entertainment industry. In doing so, Beneker has defined himself in a way that is likely to stick. Reached by phone, he declined to comment, as did his attorneys.

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A former senior policy advisor and speechwriter for Donald Trump, Miller is a native son of Southern California who has circled back to take on Hollywood, supposedly a stronghold of the radical left. He’s well financed: A 2023 tax filing revealed that his foundation had boosted fund-raising by nearly 600 percent in 2022, raising $44 million compared with $6 million the previous year. That money is being used for lawsuits challenging diversity efforts across a range of businesses and organizations.

Miller’s foundation is also trying to rustle up some trouble elsewhere in Hollywood. In February, America First Legal wrote a letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission urging the agency to investigate The Walt Disney Company and its subsidiaries for discrimination. It cited the entertainment giant’s inclusion standards, which outline criteria intended to boost representation of “underrepresented groups” (the standards do not explicitly mention race or gender). The firm seeks “heterosexual white male[s]” to be plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the company, per an ad that reads, “Are you the victim of discrimination as a result of illegal DEI policies at Disney?”

Even as data shows that women and people of color have made slow gains in a number of Hollywood jobs, Beneker alleges that he was the victim of discrimination when he expressed a desire to be made a writer on SEAL Team but wasn’t put on the staff. Beneker had been script coordinator on the series from 2017 until 2022 and was offered a chance to write three episodes of the show as a freelancer. It is common for showrunners to give assistants and script coordinators a shot at writing.

The Beneker lawsuit asserts that an “illegal policy of race and sex balancing” promoted the hiring of unnamed “less qualified applicants,” including women, minorities or LGBTQ writers. He seeks $500,000 and a court order making him a full-time producer on SEAL Team (which is in its last season) and barring the further use of allegedly discriminatory hiring practices.

In becoming the face of Miller’s project in the entertainment business, Beneker has risked disparagement from former associates on the show as well as other writers — including some white men — who don’t even know him. Brandon Margolis, whose credits include The Blacklist and S.W.A.T., wrote on X (formerly known as Twitter) that he knew nothing about the specifics of Beneker’s situation but nonetheless opined: “My dude, you are not the one who decides how qualified you are. . . If you’ve gotten a script and your [showrunner] decided not to staff you, there was a simple reason: it wasn’t good enough.”

And from writer-producer-director Jim Fagan: “The show that knew me, my work ethic, and my creative abilities better than any other show on Earth didn’t want to hire me so now I guess I’ll sue my way into a career.”

More harshly, Queen of the South writer Jorge A. Reyes tweeted: “I worked with this guy in 2000–I was a writer, he was a script coordinator and a seriously odd duck THEN. He thinks he’s never gotten a staff writer job in 24 years because he’s white?? It’s because he’s weird and the work’s not good.”

Several writers who have worked with Beneker on Seal Team say talent was indeed the issue. He shares “written by” credit on the three episodes he was assigned as a freelancer, though sharing credit is not unusual.  But a writer who worked on one such script says, “Judging from his writer’s draft for that episode I don’t think that Brian’s writing was strong enough to be considered for a staffing position.” Several other sources share similar opinions.

Some observers noted the length of time that Beneker has put in as a script coordinator, having started in that capacity in aughts, including on one season of Sons of Anarchy in 2008, according to his IMDb credits. (Show creator Kurt Sutter says he doesn’t remember Beneker.) Says one showrunner who has no connection to Beneker or SEAL Team, “If you’ve been doing that job for 10 years and you really wanted to be a writer, you need to stop doing it and just try to get a job as a writer or get out of the business. This is not a job you do forever.”

Writer Brittany Van Horne posted a comment on X: “Deeply embarrassing on the script coordinator’s part but everyone who uses ‘diversity’ as an ‘easy’ excuse for not hiring or promoting people are complicit here too. …  Diversity is way too often used as an excuse for not hiring or promoting someone you had no intention to hire.”

Lawyers from Miller’s foundation did not respond to requests for comment. John W. Howard of the San Diego law firm J.W. Howard Attorneys, which is managing the case in California, suggested in a brief call that sources who made unflattering comments about Beneker’s work likely were trying to curry favor with CBS and Paramount. He referred queries to his partner, saying he can be “too pugnacious” when talking to the press. That partner did not respond to requests for comment.

A prominent television agent says he has no knowledge of Beneker or his situation but has empathy for some white male writers who may have had difficulty finding work as studios embraced DEI initiatives following the 2020 murder of George Floyd. “I would get calls saying we need to hire a Black person or a woman,” he says. Another top agent says such requests may be perfectly legitimate: “If you’re doing a show about a gay man who’s Black, it would be great to have a writer on the show who is gay and Black.”

CBS announced its DEI goals in May 2020, with targets for scripted television adopted as part of an initiative for its programming “to more accurately reflect diversity both on-screen and behind-the-camera.” The stated goal was to allocate a minimum of 25 percent of the network’s future script development budgets to projects created or co-created by people of color. Writers’ rooms were to be staffed with a minimum of 40 percent BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of color] representation,” with a goal to increase that number to 50 percent in the 2022-2023 season.

According to UCLA’s annual diversity report, diversity efforts may be paying off — if not broadly, at least for writers in broadcast television. At 45.5 percent, women writers were approaching proportionate representation in broadcast during the 2021-2022 season, as were writers of color at 36.3 percent, Overall, however, the study concluded people of color remain “underrepresented on every employment front” while women were underrepresented on several fronts.

It is not yet known whether Paramount and CBS will defend the suit or look to settle it. With Beneker’s demand of $500,000, the company could easily offer a settlement that would be cheaper and less public than fighting it out in court.

Should they decide to fight, some might assume that the anti-affirmative action precedent the Supreme Court set in Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard last June suggests that DEI efforts in other settings are also doomed. But Amalea Smirniotopoulos, senior policy counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, who has no involvement in the Beneker case, says it would be a mistake to assume that the Court’s ruling means automatic victory for a plaintiff like him.

“Opponents of civil rights have tried to weaponize that decision and apply it to a variety of different contexts, including employment, which was never actually discussed by the Supreme Court,” she says. “I don’t think we should assume by the fact that a claim has been brought that it will move forward or change the law.”

Television newsletter writer Rick Ellis predicts that the case will settle. Stephen Miller’s group just needs the appearance of a win, according to his reasoning. His predication for Beneker? “He walks away with a bit of money and can spend a couple of years as the Kevin Sorbo of script coordinators, appearing on various conservative media outlets complaining that a white man can’t get a fair break in Hollywood.”

Additional reporting by Winston Cho.

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