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  • Nigella McConnell

A TV and Film Addict's Perspective on the SAG-AFTRA and Writers’ Strike

Updated: Oct 28, 2023

| by Nigella McConnell |


I want to start by saying I watch a lot of TV, like a lot. I’m used to watching five shows at a time, and I need to watch a movie before I go to sleep, or I can’t function correctly the next day.

With the recent development of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strike, one would think I would be devastated. What’s going to happen to my favorite show? Will it get renewed for a new season? Will the movie I’ve been waiting forever to come out ever be released? And since movies and TV are near and dear to many of us, many other people might feel the same way. But, as a self-proclaimed addict of TV and movies, I think we’ll all be okay.

The first aspect I’ve seen of the writers’ strike is the replacement of actual writers with artificial intelligence (AI). Protection from AI replacement has been an early concern of the WGA. Fran Drescher, the SAG-AFTRA president (yes, Fran Fine), has said that if writers don’t voice their problems now, machines will overrun them and take their jobs. This may seem like the cliché babbling of a person from a different generation who isn’t used to new technology, but AI has become an excellent resource for content creation and learning new things. However, writing screenplays and scripts is not one of them.

The dangerous thing about AI replacing writers is the lack of humanity. Many shows, like The Bear or Abbott Elementary, are getting a lot of recognition now because you have writers who have been through these experiences and know how to appeal to an audience. For example, Quinta Brunson captures the reality of working in an inner-city public school because her mom is a public school teacher. Being a talented writer, she shows her appreciation for teachers' hard work by putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and writing a fantastic script for every episode. Writers have a talent for developing unique stories to give to the public so they can have something to relate to. If we replace real writers with AI, it will be different. AI can't capture the real experiences of black women, differently-abled people, the LGBTQIA+ community, etc. It pulls things from search engines, puts them through a system, and calls it a script. Suppose the billionaires who run studios like Warner Brothers and ABC replace these real people with machines. In that case, I can guarantee that shows and movies won't be the same because they're not authentic. Audiences aren't stupid; they’ll quickly recognize the difference.

Now, let’s be honest: there hasn't been an original idea in entertainment for a long time. There have been reboots and adaptations of books and podcasts that have been very well received; others have been a hit or a mess. In fact, many upcoming shows and movies being delayed or canceled due to the strike are reboots of various Disney movies, such as Moana and Snow White, or sequels to films that have already found success. There's nothing wrong with wanting to see a live-action Dwayne Johnson as a singing demigod, Snow White as a woman of color, or even Deadpool continuing to break the fourth wall, all of which I can’t get enough of.

What's wrong is the lack of sincerity behind those projects. Many of these movies are cash grabs with inflated budgets for billionaire corporations to feed their egos and pretend it's for their audiences. These movies continue to flop at the box office because they’re not original. Even worse is that lazy work from studios continues to jeopardize the security of writers and actors. Those in the entertainment industry rely on audiences to positively react to their work so they can keep their career active. Most actors are not privileged to pull out of a project that has less than inspired writing or production. If corporations and studios make the necessary changes in treating their actors and writers, they may work with them to figure out original ideas. But, until then, it will be a sequel to yet another reboot.

Regarding actors and writers not being paid enough, before learning more from the WGA and SAG, I believed they were getting handsomely paid for their efforts. Or, at least more than minimum wage. When we hear anybody in the entertainment industry complain about not being treated fairly, whether it's lack of compensation or unsafe work environments, it’s easy to dismiss their claims because they sound out of touch. There are so many misconceptions about the entertainment industry. But that's what billionaire corporations want people to think about the talent they hire; they're getting paid fairly, being treated fairly, and essentially complaining for nothing. In reality, some of these people are not earning a dime. Actors such as Viola Davis, Kamil McFadden, and Kendrick Sampson have discussed the residual checks they received in detail. The amounts are as little as $0.03. Of course, some writers and actors may be getting paid more due to their position and the amount of viewing of their show or film. However, most of what they receive isn't enough to pay rent for a small apartment. It's easy to forget that actors and writers are actually real people trying to get by on the often small checks that they're getting. They're trying to make a living, like anyone else.

Another concern would be the SAG-AFTRA health insurance. Actors must make a certain amount to qualify for health insurance; at least 80% don't. So, in reality, those in the entertainment industry cannot scrape by on what they have because they're not getting paid by CEOs who have never even had to worry about paying for a flu shot.

There’s so much discourse about the strike and what the future of entertainment may look like. As a self-proclaimed TV and movie addict, I am choosing to support the strike by continuing to watch the shows that I can’t function without. But I know the release of a new season cannot happen if actors, writers, and every role down to production assistants do not have their demands met.




 

Nigella McConnell is a Spelman College junior English major from Grand Rapids, Michigan. In high school, she developed poetry writing skills with the local organization Diatribe in West Michigan. She has always been interested in writing and drawing attention to political issues, especially those concerning danger to Black and Brown communities. Nigella plans to pursue a career in journalism or nonprofit work.


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