Former President Barack Obama expressed solidarity Thursday with striking film and TV writers, saying he was “very supportive of the writers and the strike, and I’m hopeful that they get a fair share of the fruits of their labor.”
Obama made the remarks during a promotional event for his new Netflix docuseries,“Working: What We Do All Day.” Inspired by legendary journalist Studs Terkel’s book of the same name, the series features Obama interviewing and following various kinds of workers across the country.
On Thursday, Obama referred to the “embattled” Hollywood “studios and streamers” on the other side of the bargaining table from the writers, noting that those companies “wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for writers creating the stories that matter.”
“My hope is that as somebody who’s really supportive of the Writers Guild and as someone who just believes in storytelling and the craft of it, I’m hoping that they will be compensated and the importance of what they do will be reflected in whatever settlement’s arrived at,” Obama said. “I’m very supportive of the writers and the strike, and I’m hopeful that they get a fair share of the fruits of their labor.”
Among those studios and streaming companies is Netflix, where he and former first lady Michelle Obama’s media company Higher Ground Productions have had a multi-year deal to make movies and TV series.
Since May 2, the 11,500 TV and film members of the Writers Guild of America East and West have been on strike over issues such as equitable pay in the streaming era and preserving TV and film writing as a livelihood. (HuffPost’s unionized staff are also members of the WGAE.) Writers have described the strike as emblematic of an existential crisis, not only for them but also for other creative industries.
During the event Thursday, moderated by “This American Life” host Ira Glass, Obama also mentioned some of the existential challenges facing workers right now, including the use of artificial intelligence and its potential to replace humans’ work. That issue has become a key area of contention in the writers’ fight for a fair contract. Writers proposed protections around the use of AI, such as rules that would make sure AI could not write movies and TV shows or their source material, and that writers’ work couldn’t be used to train AI programs. Studio executives rejected those proposals and instead suggested “annual meetings on the use of technology.”
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden also expressed his support for the striking writers. “I sincerely hope that the writers strike in Hollywood gets resolved and the writers are given the fair deal they deserve as soon as possible,” Biden said May 8 before a White House screening of the new Disney+ series “American Born Chinese.” “This is an iconic, meaningful American industry. We need the writers, and all the workers and everyone involved to tell the stories of our nation — and the stories of all of us.”
The following day, Vice President Kamala Harris canceled an appearance at an event for MTV, reportedly in solidarity with the writers’ strike.
Other prominent Democratic and progressive lawmakers have also expressed their support for the writers, including Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). On Thursday, writers in New York held a rally in Times Square, which included remarks from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).