“Don’t you wanna know how Yellowjackets ends?”
-picket sign carried by writer Nicky Hirsch
As I write this post for Labour Day, Hollywood writers have been out on strike, in a quest for creative justice and fair recognition of their contribution to the entertainment industry, since 2 May. On 14 July, they were joined by the Screen Actors’ Guild. I’ve been captivated by their fight, which captures my attention as a writer and a labour leader.
The core issues behind the strike are:
- Fair Compensation:
At the heart of the writers’ strike lies the fundamental issue of fair compensation. Writers are the architects of storytelling, crafting compelling narratives that captivate audiences worldwide. Despite the fact that without them, the entertainment industry would not exist, writers have often found themselves receiving inadequate pay and insufficient credit. By demanding a fair share of the revenue generated by their work, writers strive to create a more equitable and sustainable industry for all involved.
- Residuals and Streaming Platforms:
With the advent of streaming platforms, the entertainment landscape has evolved drastically. Yet, writers have not been fully rewarded for the exponential growth in content consumption on these platforms. The lack of fair residuals for streaming content has become a significant point of contention, as writers see their works generating massive profits for streaming companies without an appropriate share of the pie.
- Protecting Intellectual Property Rights:
The strike also revolves around the issue of protecting writers’ intellectual property rights. In a dynamic industry like Hollywood, writers’ ideas often become the foundation of successful franchises, spin-offs, and merchandise. However, writers have frequently faced challenges in asserting their ownership rights and benefiting from the commercial exploitation of their creations, and widening use of artificial intelligence to create material based on original concepts and characters threatens to exacerbate the situation. Strengthening intellectual property protections ensures that writers’ keystone contributions are duly recognized and rewarded.
- Inclusive Representation:
Questions of diversity and inclusion have become front and centre in the entertainment industry. Writers from underrepresented communities have been at the forefront of the strike, advocating for equal opportunities and a more inclusive and respectful working environment. By fostering diversity among writers, the industry can portray a rich tapestry of stories that resonate with audiences from all walks of life, empowering marginalized voices and breaking stereotypes.
- Healthcare and Working Conditions:
Behind the glitz and glamour of Hollywood lies a less visible reality of the demanding and often precarious working conditions for writers and actors. Many face challenges in accessing affordable healthcare, stable employment, and adequate support during times of creative drought. As demonstrated by recent high-profile incidents on film sets, health and safety in the workplace can also be a serious concern. The strike seeks to address these issues, striving to create an industry that values the well-being of its creative workforce by ensuring their safety and financial security and fostering long-term careers.
A few years ago, I listened to Canadian crime writer Maureen Jennings describe her pride in visiting the set of the popular Murdoch Mysteries, based on her highly successful Detective Murdoch books. She realized that because of her, a lot of people, from caterers to producers and publicists, had work. Without the characters and stories that came from her creative imagination, none of it would have existed.
An awful lot of people make their livings off the backs of writers. They deserve fair compensation and safe working conditions. Just like other workers we’ve fought for in the past.