Some are calling it Hot Labor Summer as historic strikes demonstrate the collective power of working people. And of course, Hollywood is not exempt as the Writers Guild of America (WGA) enters the fourth month on the picket line. The actors’ guild, SAG-AFTRA with more than 160,000 members, recently joined them. LatinaMediaCo co-founders Nicola Schulze and Cristina Escobar are here to guide you through what the strike means for Latinx representation in media and why audience members should support the unions.
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: I just want to start by saying that I’m 100% on the side of the writers and actors. They are the ones who make the shows and movies we love – not the studios. Yes, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), who the unions are negotiating with, do the financing and distribution, but that’s hardly where the creativity lies.
NICOLA SCHULZE: I could not agree more. While Hollywood and the entertainment industry would like us to think that they are purely creative industries, we know behind the lights and glamour, they are a business and profit is their north star. Writers and actors actually tell our stories, creating moving narratives that direct our culture.
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: I also can’t help but notice that the decrease in pay coincided with the industry finally letting in more women, people of color, and women of color. I know there have been wage-gap studies showing that when a profession goes from being male-dominated to female-dominated, that pay goes down, but it is SO frustrating to watch it in real-time.
NICOLA SCHULZE: It’s clear media corporations are pushing back against progress. It is not surprising, but it is disappointing. Our society has a deep history of devaluing work that is seen as feminine, usually work that involves caring and helping others. And when we look at the progression of creating culture and the creative industry at large, it is more inclusive. While we do need it to be MUCH more inclusive, this industry is clearly devaluing creative work in a similar way society devalues “feminine work.” And I don’t think that is a coincidence. Culture work is care work in many ways.
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: And it’s not just pay, of course. As soon as we get in, they enact more barriers keeping us from getting real power. For Refinery29, I interviewed a bunch of Latina writers, and talking to them, I was struck by just how much the streaming age has fucked them. Shorter seasons and smaller writers’ rooms mean less time practicing their craft and more time job hunting – so rising Latinx creatives don’t get the on-the-job training they need to rise to the next level. Then, on the rare occasion one of ours is selected to run a show, they don’t have all the experience they need to succeed. The studio “fixes” this problem by pairing them with someone who does and that person is usually a white guy. Maybe they understand and support the rising Latina’s perspectives and voice, maybe they don’t. It’s infuriating. And it’s certainly a good reason to strike.
NICOLA SCHULZE: It is and I think it’s rooted in control. The reason I believe AI is popular largely boils down to the ability to control a product. The studios want to minimize not just failure but even uncomfortable moments. Hollywood, like many industries, started out supporting careers that often times belonged and were protected by unions. Now those careers have been deconstructed into contract work or individual influencers that all fall under the umbrella of the new gig economy. This trend has destabilized the livelihoods of many workers, enabling corporations to avoid actually caring for their employees and treating them as disposable. Many corporations like to individually perpetuate the excuse that “anyone would be lucky to have ‘your’ job.” They ask employees to be grateful for the instability that often comes with creative careers. This strike serves as a statement that creativity deserves collective investment, specifically compensation because the gig economy is not working.
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: And, I’d also add that all of this is bad for the viewing public too. The more an artist practices their craft, the better their mentors, the better the art. And by blocking folks from getting all that experience, the studios are going to start getting a lower-quality product. It’s just a fact. And it’s also a shame because it’s so much wasted potential.
NICOLA SCHULZE: More and more corporations are using AI to continue their pursuit of quantity and efficiency over quality. AI is threatening and completely changing how we work regardless of career. It aggregates and creates medium products that come from purely data-driven machine learning. We want narratives that are created without shortcuts by actors and writers who are being fairly compensated. I don’t want cheap-discount-budget culture. It’s bonkers!
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: SO bonkers! I don’t want to read a novel or watch a movie written by a computer (or performed by one)! And then, since AI draws (or maybe “steals” would be a better word) on past stuff, just know that any AI-generated content about Latinos is going to be so stereotypical. That’s the body of work that exists and we need new stuff to get away from it, not a regurgitation of the same old nonsense.
NICOLA SCHULZE: It’s important that we as consumers continue to advocate for human-created and human-driven art. And it’s essential we support the unions and the strike to make sure that creative careers are sustainable. It also means, we have to keep supporting the show we love. Companies are paying attention to watch we’re watching, and however scary that is, let’s use it to our advantage by continuing to support and watch shows created by brilliant creatives. Then if you can and are able to donate to WGA and SAG workers, these funds will help to support those on strike.
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: Yes, WGA and SAG both list ways you can support them and we should all keep doing that, in addition to having conversations in our communities about why and how we can stand up for workers’ rights. Because I really think if the WGA and SAG win this, it’ll be better for the rest of us, giving a blueprint for how journalists and other workers can fight off the greedy, tech-powered capitalists who only want more money for their billionaire investors. Is that too much Nicola?
NICOLA SCHULZE: I don’t think it is. This strike matters and we should not turn our heads away. Creative jobs are few and far between and I want to make sure writers and actors are getting paid and receiving the benefits they need to support them and their families. I don’t want the next generation to be subjected to terrible robot humor or dumb predictable plotlines. I don’t believe art should be optimized, streamlined, or worst disrupted. And not to be hyperbolic, but there is more at stake here than just creative jobs. This is about corporations and labor and so it’s just the fight to keep work dignified, and most importantly, human.