The fiery spirit of solidarity burns strong in Hollywood. More than 100 days and counting, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) refuses to bow to the whims of the industry bigwigs. Their rallying cry? Securing a fair contract for the hard-working creative minds that light up our screens.
Recently, after what can only be described as a disappointing meeting with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), representing the top-tier TV studios, WGA reaffirmed their commitment: “We won’t settle for crumbs.” As much as the studios hint at potentially increased script fees, they appear blindsided by the larger issues. And these aren’t just trivial issues; we’re talking about equitable writers’ room sizes, addressing the broken residual payment system, and shielding creatives from the looming threat of AI in storytelling.
Highlighting the scale of unity, WGA’s peers at the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) have also been striking since mid-July. To grasp the gravity, it’s been over six decades since both major entertainment unions simultaneously halted Hollywood’s glitz and glamour.
But, why is this strike different? What has emboldened these writers and actors to stand up with such vigor?
Simply put: the streaming age. Streaming platforms, for all their convenience and diversity, have changed the landscape of compensation for these artists. Gone are the days when writers worked on larger teams for extended periods, drawing substantial residual payments whenever their episodes re-aired. Today, platforms like Netflix and Hulu have made it common practice to opt for shorter seasons, smaller writing rooms (the ‘mini-rooms’), and, sadly, measly residuals. This seismic shift has left a gaping hole in the earnings of those crafting stories for streaming versus traditional TV, even if the end product remains the same.
When actress Kimiko Glenn showcased a residual check of a mere $27 for a slew of episodes on Netflix’s groundbreaking show “Orange Is the New Black,” it resonated with poignant irony. There was a series championing diversity and challenging societal norms, yet failing to adequately remunerate its talent. Such narratives, echoing themes of racial, gender, and orientation diversity, now make up a whopping 78% of the most popular shows, as per Nielsen’s findings. But, much to our dismay, many of these visionaries aren’t being compensated fairly. With close to half of BIPOC writers seeking jobs outside the industry and a significant portion of disabled writers depending on external support, the divide is palpable.
The unsettling trend? Despite streaming’s boom fostering stories by marginalized creators, many shows get axed prematurely. Diverse projects often find themselves on the proverbial chopping block, undervalued, and sometimes even erased from platforms. Miriam Blanco, representing the voice of the underrepresented, puts it bluntly: “Our stories aren’t a luxury; they’re a necessity.”
These challenges, however, are amplified for historically marginalized groups. Entry barriers, professional growth ceilings, and issues like the ‘mini-rooms’ phenomenon contribute to the woes of these artists. The sobering reality? About 81% of showrunners are still white, as per a recent WGAW report.
A disturbing twist to this tale? The potential adoption of AI in storytelling. AI, feeding off years of Hollywood scripts, might just perpetuate age-old stereotypes, derailing the hard-won progress made in representing excluded communities.
And while all this unfolds, top execs like Disney’s Bob Iger, raking in annual earnings to the tune of $27 million, dismiss these demands as “unrealistic.” Even more, disheartening are whispered tactics by studios, allegedly hoping the strike drags on till creatives face financial ruin.
However, the spirit remains indomitable. With substantial support pouring in from A-listers and organizations, the community’s determination doesn’t waver. As the strike’s timeline stretches, challenges are many, but the hope is singular: a fair shot at doing what they love, without compromising their livelihood.
As WGA member Tawal Panyacosit aptly summarizes, “We entered this realm out of sheer love for storytelling. Do all we seek? Fair pay for our passion.