I loved "Three Kings" for which John Ridley wrote the story. It's a gem of a movie, and highly recommended. His analysis of the Writers Guild-AMPTP negotiations suffers in comparison. In his defense, he did personally encompass points #2, 3, 7, 10, 11, 12 of the Strike Primer that I posted here two weeks ago, all rolled into one, which is pretty impressive. So, kudos.
As a WGA member, I have another love: Chris Kelley's response. Spot-on as it was, though, he still overlooked several important aspects. I suspect he was being kind -- although his criticism was blunt enough to make me tremble at the thought of what he could have added.
I will add it.
To be clear first though, if there is a strike, of course it will be painful. Everywhere. Gut-wrenching. The only person suggesting otherwise is probably Dick Cheney. No one "wants" to strike. Strikes are horrible. You strike because the alternative is far worse. What was overlooked about John Ridley's analysis, however, is that...well, with nearly every one of his points being contradictory, it didn't make any sense.
I will explain -
Mr. Ridley spends his entire piece lambasting the Writers Guild for being off-base in its negotiations, for being wrong-headed, ill-conceived, fighting a losing war. And then after all of that, he adds: "The strike must happen" and "an equitable slice of the future pie is too valuable not to fight for."
Color me bumfuddled. I know that he writes, "I imagine the assumption is that I am anti-strike. I am not" -- but honestly, I don't have the first assumption what John Ridley's position is. I've hired mystics, and we're all still trying to figure it out.
Unfortunately, the contradictions keep flying so fast that pith helmets are required for protection.
For example: Mr. Ridley complains that Hollywood writers are forced to join the Writers Guild. On the other hand, if one simply chooses not to join the Writers Guild, a Hollywood writer can write independent films or documentaries. (Spike Lee isn't a member.) Or write network reality shows -- which use uncredited writers. Or write TV game shows. Or write for studios' new media projects. Or--
Or get this - the Writers Guild also has an option whereby writers can declare "financial core status" and drop out of the WGA, yet still retain full protection! It's not a choice looked on with any admiration, and if you ever want to re-join, you can't. But if John Ridley doesn't want to be in the WGA...contrary to what he insists, he don't have to.
Another contradiction: Mr. Ridley goes to great length complaining that the WGA is not winning the public's "hearts and minds." On the other hand -- he acknowledges in his very second paragraph that that isn't even the battle. The WGA is just trying to negotiate an employment contract with the AMPTP.
To give a wider, objective picture of the full landscape writers face, Mr. Ridley quotes message boards calling writers "selfish," "pompous" and "overpaid hacks." On the other hand, he omits quoting even a single one of the support for writers. No doubt this was a mere oversight. Of course, the truth is that most people think everyone in Hollywood is selfish, pompous and overpaid. Actually, most people think that everyone in the entire world is selfish, pompous and overpaid, except themselves.
The contradictions continue:
Writers shouldn't strike, Mr. Ridley insists, because the network TV season has been bad. On the other hand, the only reason anyone ever strikes is because conditions are bad. Of course he's just speaking of quality -- yet on the other hand, no one strikes because of quality. Otherwise, Supertrain and Pink Lady would gotten NBC boycotted in perpetuity. Certainly, networks can put on a less-expensive reality show (using those aforementioned uncredited writers, who...the WGA is trying to cover), but it hardly takes a bad TV season to do so. Which is specifically one huge reason the WGA is trying to cover such writers. Go figure.
And then, finally, alas, there's John Ridley egregiously comparing the Writers Guild to communism. While it's a nifty trick to regress into the HUAC hearings and Blacklists 60 years after they were buried in hell, we now have according to Mr. Ridley's contortions: management=democracy=good, and labor=communists=bad. On the other hand, given that democracy is based on majority rule, it's an impressive contradiction to twist the limited plutocracy of management into "Power to the People!"
To be clear, none of this delves deep into the issues at stake. No strike is black-and-white. It's all negotiation. One can be on any side of the issue, and make whatever rational case you want. And pray it all works out. But my reaction right here is about something else. Because in the end, in working it all out, much as I'd love to agree or disagree with what John Ridley believes -- I just don't have the first clue what he was writing about and trying to say.
But still, rent Three Kings.
[NOTE: This post edited for a correction about the screen credit for "Three Kings."]
Read more thoughts about the strike on Huffington Post's writers' strike opinion page