Are you an actor? There are a few of them in this town. Are you a member of the Screen Actors Guild (now SAG-AFTRA), maybe for years or decades? Gratefully taking work when it comes but always faithfully paying your dues, even writing letters and marching on a picket line when asked.
Did you recently receive a booklet in the mail? Looks generic and harmless. But actually, it’s life changing. Your union has screwed you, again, big time. All 160,000 of you. (Well — not Leonardo or Renee.)
Out of moral conviction, you resolutely turned down tens of thousands of dollars, maybe more, of non-union work over the years, because isn’t that the point of being in a union? To support each other to only take jobs that run through the union, so they can protect you and work for you?
But this union has it set up for you to accept that non-union work and continue to be in the union. What? They have a funny little name for it, they call it “financial core,” as though that explains anything. You still have to pay dues but gosh, you can’t vote in elections for union officers, and you don’t get to say you’re in the union. But you can get back in with full honors at any time. You’re not penalized for being a scab.*
Over the decades your union has kept raising the amount of SAG-AFTRA union work dollars you have to pull in, in order to qualify for that all-important health coverage. The figure is not anything Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansen even think about. But only a tiny percentage of all actors do hit the mark.
Note: The SAG-AFTRA Health Fund is separate from the union. But the union hires them, and certainly could exercise some control if they wanted to. So I’m referring to the whole thing as “the union.”
ONLY ABOUT ONE PERCENT
Of actors who manage to get a single union credit are able to actually make a living at it. About 70 percent have a “career” that spans only a year. Only about 15 percent work in the business in an average year and for those who do, the median earnings is about $7,500, for the year.
So you’d think the actors’ union would do everything humanly possible to make sure they at least get healthcare coverage for as many as they can. Stretch the rules. Set it up that way. It’s a business that pulls in hundreds of billions of dollars. I mean, it’s healthcare — a human right, right?
So you did it. Some years, qualified, others no, but over a long career you finally hit the mark, “Age and Service,” where you no longer had to sweat your health coverage — you can now finally relax, you are covered for life! Big burden relieved. If you’ve got a serious pre-existing condition, that’s a huge deal.
Awww — sorry. SAG-AFTRA, the union that’s supposed to take care of their members, just informed everyone, including all those hard-working, dollar-counting members who played by the rules and against all odds qualified for lifetime coverage — that you don’t have that any more. We’re breaking our long-standing promise. The one you counted on, made plans around, and worked for all your life.
I know, business is business and the numbers have to add up. But I just chatted with another friend who is in a different show biz union and their union borrowed from the pension fund to make sure no one lost health coverage. Are you telling me there’s nothing like that that SAG could have done? And where did you spend all that money, that you’re now so broke you have to break promises?
Look, I’m not in that union (I only have the t-shirt), but fair is fair and SAG-AFTRA has rarely stepped up for its members on the all-important issues of health coverage. It’s even more important now, when you have a president and political party threatening to do away with Medicare and Social Security.
AND DO YOU KNOW WHO ELSE
Needs to step up? For their fellow actors?
How about if there was a letter, and press conference, from Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Lawrence, Dev Patel, Emmas Stone and Watson, Kristin Stewart, Will Smith, Ang and Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, Daniel Radcliffe, Margot Robbie, Hanks, Hopkins, Cheadle, Cruise, Close, Clooney, Chastain, Cranston, Crowe, Coen x2, Coppola x2, Dern x2, del Toro x2, Depp, Duvall, Denzel, Driver, Dench, Downey Jr, DeNiro, DiCaprio, Pacino, Penn, Pitt, Streep, Scorsese, Scarlett, Spielberg, Saoirse, Spacek, Streisand, Gyllenhaal, Gosling, Nicholson, Nyong’o, Blanchett, Banderas, Kidman, Joaquin, Quentin, Zellwegger, demanding that their fellow actors get humane treatment? A lot of them do a lot of good work for many causes. How about the guy working next to you who doesn’t drive a Ferrari?
Do you think that would get anyone’s attention?
It’s probably going to take a lawsuit, and I sure hope that happens.
WATCH “BLACK TO TECHNO” — Don’t get it twisted, techno music is Black. Black, and especially queer Black communities, were the pioneers of techno, the birthers of a whole new style of music, and they continue to shape and push its boundaries as a genre and culture.
There are perhaps other books and films that give a more straightforward, comprehensive history of the origins of techno, but if you are looking to watch something concise that is part documentary and part visual art, this is the film for you. “Black To Techno” explores the origins of techno in Detroit, “drawing parallels between the machine-like production lines of the city’s manufacturing heritage and the roots of Black music in drum patterns and percussive variation.” Nigerian-British artist and filmmaker Jenn Nkiru, who made the powerful short “Rebirth is Necessary” using archival footage of Sun Ra and the Black Panthers, and who has made music videos for Kamasi Washington, Neneh Cherry, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, describes her blending of archival film, music and speech as “cosmic archaeology.”
She recalls watching educational films during her time at Howard University, remembering that they were “very educational, but boring to watch… How do we hide this medicine in ice cream? How do we present this in a way that people are interested in and can vibe with, but can also get their knowledge?”
Regardless of whether or not you know anything about techno, “Black To Techno” is an artful, poetically crafted piece that tells an important and oft underrepresented story. The film was premiered last year at the Frieze contemporary art fair, and is available for free on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/389428918
As a child raised on just about everything but techno, my foray into the genre has been somewhat recent but extremely rewarding, and edifying. I did not understand it for a long time and I am still learning to understand it better, and I find that very exciting.
“When I hear music that parents hate, or older musicians hate, I know that’s the new music. When I hear older people saying, ‘I hate Rap or Techno,’ I rush to it.” — George Clinton
Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 2,500 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at email@example.com
* The Financial Core designation was created as a result of a Supreme Court decision, not at the Union’s direction.