Thursday, November 8, 2007

I Walked the WGA Picket Line and I Enjoyed Every Inch of It!

Note: This post is dedicated to the memory of Endesha Ida Mae Holland (1944-2006)

It's been nearly two years since the passing of one of my playwriting mentors, the late Endesha Ida Mae Holland. She was a juvenile deliquent with a lengthy rap sheet -- that was, until the civil rights movement came to her neck of the woods and transformed her in ways she did not even imagine. The one seminal incident that changed her was watching an African-American woman typing on a typewriter -- something she never had seen before.

Her involvement in the civil rights movement put the lives of herself and her family in jeopardy -- her mother perished in a arson fire set by white racists in retaliation for her civil rights work. So much so that fellow activists, fearing for her personal safety, arranged to send her to live in Minnesota, where she went to college, eventually graduating with a Ph.D. in American Studies in 1985. Legend has it that, on her graduation day, two busloads of pimps, whores and hustlers made the trek to attend her graudation ceremony. Her expereinces led her to write her autobiographical play, From the Mississippi Delta, which Oprah Winfrey brought to the stage in the late 1980's.

"Doc Holland" (as we affectionately called her) considered me to be her favorite student playwright. She encouraged me to write intuitively and from the soul. It was the baseline from which many of my works have been forged, and I am forever indebted to her for having the insight to take me to the next level.

Her activism also inspired me to take on noble acts in so many profound ways. When the Writers' Guild went on strike, one of the first things I did last Monday was to join them in walking on the picket line at CBS Raford in Studio City. Later, when I returned home that day, I stared at my kitchen and found a box of Duncan Hines blueberry muffin mix still soitting above my kitchen cabinet. In a inspired gesture of nobility, I awoke the following Tuesday and proceeded to bake a fresh batch of blueberry and corn muffins to bring to the strikers on the picket line. Needless to say, they were surprised but pleased with my generous gesture.

Later that day, in between my audition for the upcoming ABC reality show "All the Right Moves" (Picture Dancing With the Stars, but with normal folk instead of celebrities being put through their steps). I walked the picket lines at CBS Beverly (where The Price is Right is taped. What was particularly striking was the security guards were cool with my picketing in solidarity with the Writers' Guild, and one guard inquired as to what "All the Right Moves" was all about.

To paraphrase Abigail Adams, we are now living in an era of increasiong hostilities. Showrunners (read: the writer/producers those within the Hollywood Industrial Complex refers to as "hypenates") are now being hit with breach of contract suits by the network suits (read: Les Moovies and his ilk, the same Moovies who gave us that despictable Kid Nation) in an effort to break the stirke.

It comes as no surprise to me that the conduct of Peter Chernin, Les Moonves and their cohorts in the Hollywood executive suites has been inexcuably shameful. Not only have they been behaving more and more like the Bull Connors and Sheriff Jim Clarks who attacked civil rights demonstrators in the Sixties, their petty acts of intimidation via judicial fiat smack of segregationists firehosing and attacking civil rights demonstrators with dogs. Not unlike those segregationists who were outed and exposed for the evil, depraved souls they truly were, Moonves and his cohorts are being exposed for the petty, vindictive crybabies they truly are.

In short, this is not just about the Writers' Guild and their quest for a larger piece of the backaction pie. This has potential consequences for playwrights as well. This is given that the whole damned play development process now reeks of what goes on in Hollywood, with so many suits demanding changes to fit their perception of what they think the audience likes.

As Nikki Fikke points out in Deadline Hollywood Daily, " Let me say this upfront: if the networks and studios plan on really suing the showrunners, then they're going to smash the very underpinnings which support the entire Hollywood system. One of the main reasons that the guilds exist is to perform all the administrative functions that producers don't want to do, like health, pension, credits, arbitration, etc. Crissakes, if the WGA didn't decide who wrote what for both the writers and the studios, then we wouldn't be able to count the number of lawsuits emanating from every TV show and movie or the amount of billable hours outside lawyers would chalk up.

The reality is that everyone in the entertainment industry bends over backwards not to initiate lawsuits because the powers-that-be have too much to hide. They don't want to air their dirty laundry. They don't want to expose their tricky accounting. They don't want to swear to tell the truth in a deposition or on a witness stand where opposing counsel can ask them anything or everything in order to embarrass them or even shame them.


Fikke goes on to add, "What's ironic here is that networks/studios love showrunners because these super-talented creatives are the driving force, the inspiration, the soul, of TV shows. C'mon, the moguls all claw and fight to hire the best ones for big money. Even those showrunners that flop or behave badly are still hired year after year, series after series.

Am I sensing the possibility of picketing strikers being fire-hosed any time soon?

With that thought in mind, I thought of a song from the civil rights era, "If You Miss Me From the Back of the Bus," which began during the Montgomery Bus Boycott and became one of the rallying anthems of the movement. One of the song's beauties is that new verses were always invented to fit with the local struggles of the day. It was with that song fresh in my mind that I came up with new verses pertaining to the Writers' Guild strike:

If you miss Shawn Ryan
and you can't find him nowhere
Just go on over to the picket line
he'll me marching over there.

He'll be marching over there
he'll be marching over there
Just go on over to the picket line
He'll be marching over there


If you miss Les Moorves
and you can't find him nowhere
Just go on over to the welfare line
he'll be standing over there

He'll be standing over there
He'll be standing over there
Just go on over to the welfare line
He'll be standing over there.


If you miss Peter Chernin
and you can't find him nowhere
Just go on over to the crazy house
he'll be resting over there.

He'll be resting over there.
He'll be resting over there.
Just go on over to the crazy house
he'll be resting over there.


If you miss John Wells
and you can't find him nowhere
Just go on over to the company store
he'll be selling out there.

He'll be selling out there.
He'll be selling out there.
Just go on over to the company store
he'll be selling out there.

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