01/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Cavemen in Cashmere

Sexism. Corporate malfeasance. Ageism. Wage inequality. These are all issues at the forefront of the progressive battlefield. Hollywood leaders as well as the rank and file have given a great deal of their time and money to defeat these abuses in the corporate world. It is ironic that these very same issues are never tackled within our own industry.

As we prepare for yet another strike to ensure future wages and residual rights for yet another union, this time the Screen Actor's Guild, it is important to point out that current wages and residual rights are insufficient to sustain the professional class of actors, writers and directors. All of the wealth in our industry has been crowded into the teeniest tiniest top percentile. Anyone who is not A-list is on the F-list. We are starving out the B's C's and D's.

No one wants to raise this topic, due to fear of reprisal. This is one town where talking truth to power is a good way to lose your lunch money, but I am a light eater and I am a forty-nine year-old woman. Common wisdom dictates that I have nothing to lose and less to gain. So let's talk. We need much more than the renegotiation of a contract. We need a reordering of priorities and we need to admit that the trickle down theory has failed. Mostly the guys at the top have just peed on our heads.

The Guild minimum wages were meant to be... well the minimum that an artist could be paid. In today's industry the minimum has become the standard and there is no exception for merit or God forbid seniority. This is bad for artists. For many of us, what was once a proud profession has been downgraded to a high stress hobby. It is also, not surprisingly bad for business. Today's standard of ten million for the star and scale for the rest of the team betrays the values of artistic collaboration and suppresses wages across the board.

In series television the star cannot function without a strong supporting cast. These folks are called series "regulars" and they are crucial to a show's identity. In the past these folks were well paid and they in turn hired publicists whose efforts contributed to the show's promotion. Yesterday's "regulars" are today's "recurring roles" many of whom are paid SAG minimum week in and week out. They can not afford to promote themselves or the show. This means the chances of having a "break out" star are slim, which puts all the pressure for a show's success right back at the top of the ticket.

Is it any wonder that show after show is being canceled? There is no such thing as a One-man or One-woman television show.

Then there are the agents and managers who discover and nurture those B, C and D folks. They are the risk takers, the promoters of the unknown and the underdogs. This is where the A list comes from. They do not materialize out of thin air. These folks are the innovators and they cannot survive on ten percent of scale. Like so many industries, the boutique retailers are at risk of being gobbled up by the monoliths and the implications are just as grim for art as they are for banking. BofA meet CAA.

With the deterioration of Anti-trust laws and massive mergers the entire industry is dominated by four multi-national corporations. These folks also make widgets and Windex and washing machines. They are looking at the bottom line and in so doing sending creativity to the bottom of the barrel. And yes those same executives who insist that directors, writers and actors are lucky to be paid the minimum are of course cadging gigantic salaries and flying private jets armed with golden parachutes.

The economics of the business no longer make sense. We are told that there are record profits at the movies this year and yet the average worker on a movie is paid... you guessed it scale. The way forward is going to require true intra-union collaboration as well as intervention from the artists who are on the receiving end of this huge disparity. If you are being paid millions on a project that is holding all of the other talent to minimum wage, you must speak up. Give back a percentage point and empower your fellow artists. If you are a director or writer with clout, part of your deal needs to include reasonable wages for your cast and crew.

All of the artists unions can cite dreadful statistics regarding minorities, women and older artists. These inequalities are decades old and yet there has been little or no improvement. In the DGA women make up 6% of the industry over all and the percentage goes down for television. A woman can run for president, but she cannot direct episodic television? Really? A black man can BE president, but most minority programming is still ghettoized? Really? Still? Hollywood is notorious for its progressive views and yet remains twenty years behind the nation in terms of equality in the workplace. I wonder... can that be why the public is rejecting or worse ignoring much of our product?

The health of a society can be measured by the vitality of its middle class. This is true of Industry as well. Hollywood has pushed the middle class of artists to the bottom. They are on the verge of extinction. The strike will do nothing to address this. Future residuals are important, but, if the middle keeps being held to the minimum, the unions themselves may have no future. It is time for Hollywood's liberal leaders to look inward and ask themselves why the values they fight for in politics are not worth promoting in their own practice. The truth is this town is fully dominated by a good old boys club of straight white men. Yes there are a few women and the occasional gay in the mix, but they are following the same corrupt path. The powers that be may be sophisticates but their policies are pure back room bully. You can put cashmere on a caveman but he is still a caveman. Really. Still.

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