Obama calls on Hollywood writers to get a ‘fair share of the pie’

Obama calls on Hollywood writers to get a ‘fair share of the pie’

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Former President Barack Obama weighed in on the Writers Guild of America strike on Thursday, saying the studios and streamers “wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the writers.”

Obama made the comment during a Q&A on his new Netflix series, Work: what we do all day, broadcast live on LinkedIn.

Before discussing what inspired his docuseries about working people in the United States, the 44th president told moderator Ira Glass that he wanted to address the writers’ strike.

“Part of what the show Functioning is about how constant certain things are, about work experience, people trying to find satisfying work, people trying to pay the bills,” Obama began. “Unfortunately, one of the things that has also been constant is people’s struggle to make sure their employers treat them fairly and that they get a fair share of the pie.”

Related story: ‘Power Book III: Raising Kanan’ author explains why WGA strike matters: ‘We want to be able to survive’

Obama interviews a woman about her job in a scene from Working: What We Do All Day.  (Credit: Netflix)
Obama interviews a woman about her job in a scene from Working: What We Do All Day. (Credit: Netflix)

Obama noted that big conglomerates rarely give employees better benefits or higher wages, instead those advances have come from workers and unions fighting for what they have been given.

“What we have seen throughout American history is that unions and labor organizations have had to make demands of their employers, those who control the industry they are in, to ensure they are treated fairly and that entertainment is no exception,” he said. “So my hope would be that in a time of great technological change, where you have big and mega-companies that are doing very well, that they keep in mind, the creative people who are actually making the product that the consumers appreciate, and which is exported all over the world.

Talks between the WGA and major studios and streamers, including Netflix, broke down earlier this month over salary increases; increases in residual flows; the number of writers in each show; and rules that would limit the use of artificial intelligence in writing projects.

Obama said studios and streamers owe much of their success to the writers who write their movies and TV shows.

“The thing is, they wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the writers creating the stories that matter,” he said. “I hope that as someone who really supports the Writers Guild and as someone who just believes in storytelling and its art, I hope they get compensated and the importance of what they do will be reflected in whatever settlement is reached, so I am very much in favor of the writers’ strike and hope they get a fair share of the fruits of their labor.

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The strike began on May 2, after the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents studios and streamers, pulled out of the negotiating table. The AMPTP said it presented a “comprehensive proposal” to the guild, which included “generous increases in writers’ compensation”, but the proposal was rejected.

Santa Sierra, a WGA writer recently said Urban Hollywood 411 that it’s getting harder and harder to make a living in Hollywood. Sierra, whose credits include those of Netflix NarcosFX Mayans MCthe Starz drama Power Book III: Raising Kanansaid most writers live in expensive cities like Los Angeles and New York, and “struggle to survive.”

“You have some of the shows that we’re on, they make a lot of money. Sometimes they make billions of dollars, sometimes they make millions of dollars, and [writers] probably only see 1% of that,” she said. “We are the ones who create every action, every word you see on screen.”

Obama’s series Work: what we do all day features workers from across the country, who discuss the challenges of today’s work landscape and the changing future of work.

Produced by Higher Ground and Concordia Studios, the series is currently streaming on Netflix.

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