In May 2023, Hollywood once again found itself at the center of a storm as the Writers Guild of America embarked on a strike that reverberated throughout the entertainment industry.
The WGA strike, which just reached the four-month mark, is a labor movement that has rocked the entertainment world.
It’s marked by impassioned demonstrations and fervent negotiations, representing a pivotal moment in the ongoing struggle for writers’ rights in a rapidly evolving media landscape.
The WGA, a labor union representing over 20,000 film, television, radio and new media writers, has a rich history of advocating for the rights and welfare of its members.
The guild is associated with over 30 different advocacy groups, like the Alliance for Women in Media, the African American Women in Cinema, and the media training services branch of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
SAG-AFTRA Join the Fray
A groundbreaking moment of unity was witnessed as the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists threw its considerable support behind the WGA during the latter’s strike.
This historic alliance underscored the common challenges faced by actors and writers alike in an ever-evolving media landscape, and their determination to bring about meaningful change.
Both SAG-AFTRA and the WGA share a common mission: to champion the rights and interests of those who bring stories to life. Actors and writers are the heart and soul of the entertainment industry, and their collaborative efforts create the captivating narratives that captivate audiences worldwide.
Both guilds striking together showcases the collective strength and determination of writers and actors to secure fair compensation, creative control, and inclusive representation in the rapidly evolving world of entertainment.
This united front demonstrates that when creators and performers join forces, they have the power to reshape the industry for the better, ensuring that it continues to produce meaningful, diverse, and engaging content for audiences worldwide.
The Historical Effect of Strikes
Strikes and negotiations have been essential tools for the WGA since 1941 to address concerns related to compensation, working conditions, and the digital age’s impact on the industry.
Some of the notable wins for the guild are the 22-week strike held in 1988 where they secured an increase in residuals for reuse of television products on basic cable and negotiated residuals for made-for-basic cable products.
In 2001 they gained the first residuals for films and tv shows that were originally produced for another market.
In 2007-2008, the guild struck for 100 days. over the issue of fair compensation for digital distribution of content. The strike gained Minimum Basic Agreement coverage of content and residuals for the new media platforms, including digital downloads and ad-supposed Internet services.
And all the way back in 1941, the Screen Writers Guild, the predecessor of the WGA West, successfully negotiated their first contract with the studios, guaranteeing writer control through the guild of credits, contracts and minimum compensation.
The 2023 strike has brought to light the changing landscape of entertainment consumption and prompted industry-wide discussions on compensating writers in the digital era.
The 2023 WGA strike made significant waves in the entertainment industry.
High-profile writers, showrunners, and actors threw their support behind the strike, leading to widespread public awareness and support.
The WGA strike brings to the forefront several pressing issues that impact the lives and livelihoods of writers
The rise of streaming services and digital platforms has fundamentally altered the way audiences consume content.
However, this transition has not always translated to equitable compensation for writers.
As more content is delivered through online channels, writers are advocating for compensation models that reflect the value of their work in the digital space.
Another key issue is regarding residual payments.
These payments are crucial for writers, as they ensure a steady income stream for their work beyond the initial release.
The strike shed light on the need for updated and fair residuals and royalty systems, particularly in the digital age, where content can have a longer lifespan.
Writers often invest significant time and effort in developing original stories and characters.
They want assurances that their creative visions will be respected and maintained throughout production and distribution processes.
The strike has also highlighted the importance of representation and diversity in storytelling.
The share of Black, Indigenous and People of Color in on screen employment rose from 5.2 percent to 22.6 percent from 2010 to 2020, the amount of Caucasian people fell from 94.8 percent to 77.4 percent in the same period, according to the WGA’s 2022 Inclusion and Equity Report.
BIPOC make up 42.2 percent of the US population, with white people representing 57.8 percent. And in 2021, 50% of new members in the WGA identified as BIPOC and 22% as LGBTQ+.
And there’s still a long way to go, women, women of color and LGBTQ+ people have the least access to writing jobs, and the financial precarity of the work could mean they have to leave the industry altogether.
Disabled people hold about 1 percent of writing roles for TV series, pilots and screenplays, while 27 percent of American adults report having a disability.
Writers are advocating for more inclusive hiring practices and authentic representation of diverse voices and perspectives in media.
Another key issue involved in the strike is AI generated writing. WGA wants the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to regulate the use of AI in projects covered by its agreements and declare that AI can’t write or rewrite literary material or be used as source material.
It also wants to ensure that written material covered under union agreements with the studios can’t be used to train AI.
Some writers are also worried that the use of AI in Hollywood will hurt efforts to diversify.
While many shows and movies are on hiatus due to the strike, some productions will hire non-union writers who will cross the picket line to write. This undermines the bargaining power of the striking workers. These temporary writers are also known by the derogatory term of scabs.
Shows like General Hospital have confirmed the use of temporary writers
Writer for the soap, Shannon Peace shared on her Instagram account that the last episode she had written prior to the strike would be airing, and the show would now exclusively be written by “scab writers.”
“Daytime writers face a unique conflict during strikes. We hate to see our characters and storylines handed over to ‘writers’ who cross the picket line,” Peace’s post said. But we’re also keenly aware that stopping production could spell the demise of soap operas.”
Another show that’s been accused of using scab writer and actors and not supporting the strike is Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story. Members of the WGA and SAG-AFTRA are protesting outside the doors of the Long Island City, NY location where season 12 is currently filming.
“We’ve shut down a sh*t-ton of shows and that’s why you see us out today,” T Cooper, a WGA East strike captain told Variety.com. “We’re here at one of the few remaining shows that are being produced still, and how does it feel? It’s like honestly we’re going to be out here as long as it takes to get what we feel is a fair contract to honor our work.”
The WGA rapid response teams have become quite effective at shutting down productions across the U.S., but Murphy’s series have been tough to crack. American Horror Story is one of very few productions still up and running as the writers strike closes out its 10th week. .
Impact and Future Outlook
The WGA strike, while disruptive, plays a vital role in shaping the entertainment landscape for the better.
Strikes and negotiations force industry stakeholders to engage with the concerns of writers and to reevaluate compensation structures and industry practices.
Over the years, the WGA has made significant strides in securing better contracts and agreements that reflect the changing dynamics of the entertainment industry.
As the industry continues to evolve, the WGA’s role in advocating for writers’ rights remains crucial.
With new technologies, platforms, and distribution models continually reshaping the entertainment landscape, writers are committed to ensuring that their contributions are properly recognized and compensated.
The Writers Guild of America strike is a powerful reminder that behind every cinematic masterpiece and binge-worthy TV show is a dedicated writer pouring their creativity and talent into the script.
The strike emphasizes the need for a fair and just system that recognizes the value of these creators and their contributions.
As the industry moves forward, it is essential for stakeholders to engage in open dialogue and negotiations to create an environment where writers can continue to craft stories that inspire and entertain, while also receiving the compensation and recognition they rightfully deserve.