Nicole Avant: Westside power broker for the less stodgy set

Nicole Avant: Westside power broker for the less stodgy set

Nicole Avant

When Gwyneth Paltrow hosted a fundraiser for Los Angeles mayoral candidate Rick Caruso in the spring of 2022, the pair paused, arm in arm, for a few photos. Just visible in the background, chatting animatedly, was Nicole Avant.

Working behind the scenes among L.A.’s rich and powerful is where Avant prefers to be. Although she’s often mentioned in connection with the men in her life — her husband is Netflix Chief Executive Ted Sarandos, and her father was music executive Clarence Avant — the Beverly Hills native is a force in her own right in the world of politics and fundraising.

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Avant rose to prominence in 2007 when she broke with much of Hollywood, including her father, by supporting Barack Obama over fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton. She set out to disrupt what she described in her memoir as stodgy traditional Hollywood fundraisers, “consisting of white people talking to white people about what white people needed.” Avant dug into her deep social circle in L.A. and looked for younger donors, especially Black, Latino, Asian and Persian women “who have influence, who have power, who have smarts, and who have money.”

“She made everybody feel important,” said Charles Rivkin, the chairman and chief executive of the Motion Picture Assn., who co-chaired Obama’s Southern California finance committee with Avant. She was a “force of nature,” he said (and “not shy” about sharing her opinions with the candidate). Avant later served as ambassador to the Bahamas during the Obama administration.

From left, Nicole Avant, Lena Waithe and Aziz Ansari

Nicole Avant, left, attends the Netflix Golden Globes after-party in Los Angeles with actors Lena Waithe, center, and Aziz Ansari on Jan. 5, 2020.
(Charley Gallay / Getty Images / Netflix)

Fifteen years later, Avant’s wide circle keeps her in high demand among Democrats who hope she can open doors and checkbooks on the Westside. She has raised money for Gavin Newsom, Kamala Harris, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg.

Avant’s mother was shot and killed in a home-invasion robbery in Beverly Hills in late 2021. After the tragedy, Avant became a vocal supporter of Caruso’s law-and-order platform.

Caruso said Avant urged him to run, and, later, worked the phones to boost his popularity with Black Angelenos, entertainment industry leaders and powerful women across Los Angeles. Her influence, Caruso said, “spans a lot of different groups.”

Charming, forceful and never afraid to ask for something, Avant, 56, has been known to sweet-talk friends into hosting political events by convincing them it would be fun, rather than a chore. Said one strategist, who requested anonymity to speak frankly: “She is determined, and she is a pro at separating people from their money.”

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