Former President Barack Obama weighed in on the Writers Guild of America strike Thursday, saying studios and streamers “wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for writers.”
Obama made the comment during a Q&A about his new Netflix Series, Working: What We Do All Day, that streamed live on LinkedIn.
Before he discussed what inspired his docuseries on working people in the U.S., the 44th president told moderator Ira Glass he wanted to address the writers strike.
“Part of what the show Working is about, is how certain things are constant, about the work experience, people trying to find work that is satisfying, people trying to pay the bills,” Obama began. “Unfortunately, one of the things that’s also been constant is the struggle for people to make sure their employers are treating them fairly, and they’re getting a fair share of the pie.”
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Obama noted that big conglomerates rarely give employees better benefits or higher pay, instead those advances have come from workers and unions fighting for what they’ve received.
“What we’ve seen throughout American history is that unions and worker organizations have had to make demands on their employers, those that are controlling whatever industry they’re in, to make sure they’re treated fairly and entertainment is no exception,” he said. “So my hope would be that at a time of big technological change, where you’ve got big, mega corporations that are doing really well, that they keep in mind, the creative people who are actually making the product that consumers appreciate, and that gets exported all around the world.”
Talks between the WGA and the major studios and streamers, including Netflix, broke down earlier this month over pay raises; increases in streaming residuals; the numbers of writers on 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 pen their films and TV shows.
“The fact is that they wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for writers who were creating the stories that matter,” he said. “My hope is that as somebody who’s really supportive of the Writers Guild, and as somebody who just believes in storytelling, and the craft of it, I’m hoping that that they will be compensated and the importance of what they do will be reflected in, in whatever settlement is arrived at. So I’m very supportive of the writers strike, and I’m hopeful that 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 the studios and streamers, walked away from the negotiating table. The AMPTP has said it presented a “comprehensive package proposal” to the guild, which included “generous increases in compensation for writers,” but the proposal was rejected.
Santa Sierra, a WGA writer recently told Urban Hollywood 411 that it’s becoming increasing more difficult to make a “living wage” in Hollywood. Sierra, whose credits include Netflix’s Narcos, FX’s Mayans M.C., the Starz drama Power Book III: Raising Kanan, said most writers live in expensive cities like Los Angeles and New York, and are “struggling to survive.”
“You have some of the shows that we’re on, they go on to make a lot of money. Sometimes they make billions of dollars, sometimes they make millions of dollars, and [writers] only get to see probably 1 percent of that,” she said. “We are the ones that are creating every action, every word that you see on screen.”
Obama’s series Working: What We Do All Day features working people across the country, who discuss the challenges of today’s work landscape and how the future of work is changing.
Produced by Higher Ground and Concordia Studios, the series is currently streaming on Netflix.
Obama Calls for Hollywood Writers to Get ‘Fair Share of the Pie’