In Hollywood, the cool kids joined the strike.

I mean no offense, as a writer, to the screenwriters who have been on strike against film and television studios for over two months. But writers know the score. We are the words, not the faces. Picket’s smartest joke is no match for the attention-focusing power of Margot Robbie or Matt Damon.

SAG-AFTRA, the union representing television and film actors, joined the writers in a walkout about how Hollywood splits the cash in the streaming age and how humans can thrive in artificial intelligence. With that star power comes an easy cheap shot: Why should anyone care about a bunch of privileged elites whining about a dream job?

But for all the focus that a few big names will get in this strike, I invite you to consider a term that has come up a lot in the current negotiations: “Background actors.”

You probably don’t think much about background actors. You don’t mean to, hence the name. They are the non-speaking figures who inhabit the margins of the screen, making Gotham City or King’s Landing or the beaches of Normandy feel real, full and inhabited.

And you may have more in common with them than you think.

The lower paid actors who make up the vast majority of the profession face simple dollars and cents threats to their livelihoods. They are trying to maintain their income amid the disappearance of residual payments as streaming shortened TV seasons and decimated the syndication model. They are looking for safeguards against AI tampering with their jobs.

There is also a separate, scary question on the table: Who owns the face of a performer? Background actors seek protections and better compensation in the practice of scanning their images for digital reuse.

At a press conference about the strike, a union negotiator said that the studios sought the rights to scan and use an actor’s image “for the rest of eternity” in exchange for a day’s salary. The studios argue that they offer “pioneering” protections against the misuse of the images of actors, and counter that their proposal would only allow a company to use the “digital copy” in the specific project for which a background actor was hired.

However, the long-term “Black Mirror” implications – the practice was the real premise from a recent episode – are undeniable. If a digital copy of you – without your annoying need for money and the time to live – can do the job, who needs you?

You could, I suppose, argue that if someone is insignificant enough to be replaced by software, then they’re in the wrong business. But background work and small roles are exactly the ways to someday promote your blockbuster on the red carpet. And many talented artists build entire careers around a series of small works. (Pamela Adlon’s “Better Things” series is an excellent portrait of the lives of ordinary working actors.)

In the end, Hollywood’s battle is not far removed from the threats to many of us in today’s economy. “We’re all going to be in danger of being replaced by machines,” said Fran Drescher, the president of the actors’ guild. announcing the strike

You and I may be the protagonists of our own stories, but in the grand scheme of things most of us are background players. We face the same risk – that every time a technological or cultural change occurs, companies will rewrite the terms of employment to their advantage, citing financial pressures in paying their top executives. tens and hundreds of millions.

Perhaps it’s unfair that exploitation gets more attention when it involves a union Meryl Streep belongs to. (If the threatened UPS strike materializes, it could seize the spotlight for blue-collar work.) And there is certainly legitimate criticism from white-collar workers who railed against automation until AI threatened their own jobs.

But work is work, and some dynamics are universal. As the entertainment reporter and critic Maureen Ryan writes in “Burn It Down,” her investigation of workplace abuses throughout Hollywood, “It is neither the inclination nor the habit of the major entities in the commercial entertainment industry to value the people who make their products .”

If you don’t believe Ryan, listen to the anonymous studio talking about the writers’ strike, who said the trade publication Deadline“The end game is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.”

You may think of Hollywood creators as a privileged class, but if their employers think of them that way, are you sure yours think differently of you? Most of us, in Hollywood or out of it, face a common question: Can we have a working world in which you can survive without being a star?

You may never notice background actors if they do their jobs well. Yet they are the difference between a sterile scene and a living one. They create the impression that, beyond the close focus on the beautiful leads, there is a full, complete universe, whether it is the galaxy of the “Star Wars” franchise or the mundane reality in which you and I live.

They are there to say that we are out here too, that we make the world a world, that we at least deserve our little places in the corner of the screen.

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