At first glance the news that 160,000 Hollywood actors, members of the Screen Actors’ Guild (SAG-AFTRA), joined the ongoing 70-day long screen writers’ strike, may not appear serious compared to the strike issues faced by teachers, hospital workers, meatpackers, and railroad employees. But despite the wealth and glamour of a few star performers, all who work in the $134-billion entertainment industry under the capitalist system are subject to the same kind of exploitation and alienation from the human nature of what we do as any other worker.
THE RICH PLEAD POVERTY
Fran Drescher, President of SAG, said at a rally in Hollywood, “How far apart we are on so many things. How they plead poverty, that they’re losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their C.E.O.s. It is disgusting. Shame on them!”
Shaking her fists in anger, Ms. Drescher noted that “the entire business model has been changed” by streaming and that artificial intelligence would soon change it more. “This is a moment in history — a moment of truth,” she said. “At some point, you have to say, ‘No, we’re not going to take this anymore.’”
Screenwriters, members of the Writers’ Guild of America (WGA), are afraid studios will use AI to generate scripts. Actors worry that the technology could be used to create digital replicas of their likenesses (or that performances could be digitally altered) without payment or approval. Compensation for both is slim to none from residuals, which are, essentially, payments based on repeat performances that occur when their work is streamed.
Screenwriters have long been at the forefront of Hollywood labor battles, in 1986, when videotapes made inroads into live performances, and in 2008. They also battled another kind of threat from studios who demanded to control not just the content of their writing but their political affiliations: in 1947 the congressional House Un-American Activities Committee held hearings, forcing left-leaning producers, directors and screenwriters suspected of membership in the Communist Party to “name names” of others. Ultimately the “Hollywood Ten” were jailed for contempt of Congress. Many more were “blacklisted” by the motion picture industry, some until 1960.
Will Hollywood writers again face suppression from those opposed to expressing Black, Brown, Native American and LGBTQ+ history and culture?
–Susan Van Gelder