Updated 5/26/2023, 7:17 PM ET: The Writer’s Guild of America-West posted a tweet endorsed President Obama’s statements in support of the union and strike effort on Friday afternoon, after the initial publication of this article.
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The Writers Guild of America is currently on strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Screenwriters battle Hollywood studios for higher pay, better working conditions, and contract protections from AI replacement.
Amid the ongoing labor dispute, some striking writers have accused Barack Obama of crossing the picket line. The former president joined the a live event promoted his recently released Netflix docs on Thursday.
The discussion, led by journalist Ira Glass and hosted by LinkedIn, centered on the environment Work: What We Do All Day—a show narrated, starring, and co-produced by Obama. The series was inspired by the labor activist and historian Studs Terkel’s classic oral narrative of the US workforce, and follows people in various professions as they go about their daily lives. Gizmodo finds that the irony here is thiccc.
Obama kicked off the discussion with a ~3 minute outdoor statement in support of the WGA strike. “I know there are a lot of studios and streamers that are feeling a little nervous—that there’s a little bit too much product and they’re looking at their bottom line. And they’re experiencing shareholder pressure, etc. yet. But the truth is that they wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the writers who create the stories that matter,” he said in a record of the event.
“My hope is that, as someone who really supports The Writers’ Guild and as someone who believes in storytelling and the craft of it – I hope they get paid, and the value of what they do is seen. whatever settlement they reach. That’s why I’m very supportive of the writers and the strike, and I hope they get a fair share of the fruits of their labor,” Obama added.
Then quickly, the conversation pivots. “Let’s talk about the TV show,” Glass said. And they did, for over an hour.
Even if Obama’s preamble seems to be one of unity, his decision to promote a Netflix series cannot be erased while union workers are actively fighting the streaming giant. For many WGA writers, the move amounted to a violation against the union’s code.
“President @BarackObamaif you want to make a statement about the value of the work, please do not cross the @wga picket line to do publicity for a struck company,” Javier Grillo-Marxuach, a screenwriter best known for his work on shows like lost, drawn, and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, wrote on Twitter, before the scheduled event. The post has since been retweeted hundreds of times, including by many other writers and media workers. Marxuach is not alone in taking to social media to express his frustration with the former president.
Although Obama is not a member of the WGA (fun fact: his daughter), and no technically a screenwriter in an official capacity, many still see acting as bad taste.
“You can quibble or be pedantic about the exact contours of our picket line and the specific obligations of non-members in relation to our strike, but clearly here Obama has violated the SPIRIT on strike by continuing his promotional duties for Netflix today, something that a zillion more brilliant and powerful showrunners in Hollywood have given up to help the union,” wrote Hamilton Nolan, labor journalist and author, in one a Substack entrypublished on Friday.
Obama could have made a statement by opting out of his scheduled show promo, said Nolan. Such action could offer a significant boost to The Writers Guild and show the stakes of the strike at Netflix and co. But the former president chose not to, and in doing so flubbed an opportunity to exercise his enormous influence.
Perhaps this should not be surprising. Although Obama tried to position himself as an advocate for workers in his semi-retirement after the presidency, he not exactly a reliable ally of labor during his presidency, like no other TAUGHT online. While in office, Obama forcibly called off many strikes, effectively stifling collective organizing efforts in Philadelphia transit workers, West Coast dock workersand railway freight workers whole country.
Gizmodo has reached out to The Obama Presidential Center, The Office of Barack and Michelle Obama, and The Obama Foundation for comment. No one had provided a response at the time of publication. Spokesmen from Netflix and from WGA-West also did not immediately respond to questions.