Dispatches From The Picket Lines, Day 30: Kim Kardashian Called Out, Writers & Musicians Band Together In NYC; Monsters, Lovers, Bagels Hit L.A. Streets

Dispatches From The Picket Lines, Day 30: Kim Kardashian Called Out, Writers & Musicians Band Together In NYC; Monsters, Lovers, Bagels Hit L.A. Streets

June 1, 2023

As one of reality TV’s royal family crossed the line, striking film and television writers joined forces on Wednesday in New York City with another group of culture workers involved in a pay dispute: musicians. 

While a five-piece band played bopping brass and percussion music, members of the Writers Guild of America, in their fifth week on strike, joined in solidarity with musicians, music-industry workers and their supporters in Midtown Manhattan.

Their meet-up spot on the curb was outside the headquarters of Penske Media Corporation, owner of Austin-set South by Southwest aka SXSW. The conference is facing criticism for how it compensates bands. (PMC also owns Deadline and other media- and culture-focused publications including Rolling Stone and Billboard.) 

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Musicians returned the gesture by joining the writers at another rally on Wednesday afternoon outside the headquarters of Paramount Global.

Outside Paramount, a queen of stage and screen was on the line. Here’s why SAG-AFTRA member Alfre Woodard is supporting striking writers:

Earlier today WGA strike captain Warren Leight called out Kardashian for crossing the picket line for Ryan Murphy’s American Horror Story.

“Sad to report that Kim Kardashian crossed our midtown picket line today,” the former In Treatment showrunner tweeted. “Ushered past us into a freight elevator in her chauffeured Escalade. Writers aren’t keeping up, but Kim Krossed Our Line.”

Leight tweeted a poignant clarification later: “Once again: working actors are required to cross our lines until their contract is up on June 30. It’s not scabbing,” he wrote. “Many agonize over that, march with us on other days, send statements of support. She has more leverage than others in her position. She didn’t use it.”

A seemingly unblushing Kardashian, for her part, posted this photo on her Instagram story today:

With the WGA bringing their support previously on Wednesday, the earlier protest outside Penske HQ attended by more than 100 marchers. Their ire was the business model of SXSW, the potentially career-making music industry confab, artist showcase and media festival that draws thousands of band members, solo artists and other attendees to Austin every March. 

Demanding better compensation for bands playing the Texas fest, members of two actors unions — SAG-AFTRA and Broadway’s Actors’ Equity Association — also were on hand, along with unionized New York musicians in the American Federation of Musicians Local 802.

The message for SXSW as summarized by one speaker on Wednesday was simple: “Pay your [expletive] bands,” said Sajeev Rau, who belongs to a newly certified union for workers at a group of independent record labels. The protesters say SXSW is making millions of dollars annually on a musical event that pays the actual musicians a pittance.

SXSW 2023, which featured more than 1,500 group or solo performers in mid-March, offered each band or solo artist that was booked to play one of SXSW’s coveted showcases a choice of a stipend — $250 per band or $100 per solo artist — or a wristband credential for free access to festival events. It’s a deal that hasn’t changed in more than a decade, while the application fee for festival slots has climbed from $40 to $55, the Austin-American Statesman reported in February. 

Representatives for Penske and SXSW did not reply to requests from Deadline seeking comment. 

One WGA member, comedian and writer Sasha Stewart, echoed a recurring theme on Wednesday, that writers and musicians are in this struggle together. 

“So when we heard that musicians who make SXSW millions of dollars every year are only getting paid with a wristband or $100, we were shocked and outraged but not surprised,” Stewart said. “Corporate media like Penske and the TV-movie studios will always demand the most from artists while paying the least that they can.”

Musicians Workers Alliance member Phillip Golub said that striking writers standing up for musicians in their labor struggles was “incredibly powerful” for him.

“As independent musicians it can often feel like we’re completely on our own, and we’re largely unorganized,” Golub said. “And so when we reached out to several of these other unions and organizations that are here, to see their support is incredibly meaningful to us. It’s meaningful to them, too, because our struggles are connected.”

After speeches and a send-off round of “We’ll be back” chants, dozens of picketers marched several blocks across Manhattan to a rally underway outside Paramount’s offices in Times Square, where New York musician Marc Ribot marched with more than 130 others while playing the English horn.

Out on the West Coast, it was horror day outside Warner Bros. Todd Spence tweeted a photo of some unhappy-looking fellow picketers who appeared to be our for blood, Ryan Shovey’s sign encapsulated the mayhem of the past four-plus weeks, and a critter was eyeballing Bobby Miller and others:

For those who might shun horror while humming “What the World Needs Now Is Love,” there was this gathering outside Amazon’s L.A. HQ today:

And there was more for the lovers:

If all that darkness and light simply made folks hungry, food was back in the spotlight on Wednesday. Big Mouth creator-star Nick Kroll sent the Yeastie Boys bagel truck to the lines. No sleep till Netflix!

And speaking of toons, a group of picketers from the Animation Guild swigged some “solidarity juice,” courtesy of the teams at Grey’s Anatomy and Station 19:

Elsewhere in L.A., some former CSI writers got their fingerprints on picket signs:

Looking ahead to Thursday, a Pride Picket us set for the afternoon outside Warner Bros., followed by an afterparty.

Katie Campione, Rosy Cordero, Matt Grobar, Natalie Sitek, Pete White and Dominic Patten contributed to this report.

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