Scores of Boston University students turned their backs on the head of one of Hollywood’s biggest studios, and some shouted “pay your writers,” as he gave the school’s commencement address Sunday in a stadium where protesters supporting the Hollywood writers’ strike picketed outside.
About 100 protesters chanted “No wages, no pages,” waved signs and were accompanied by an inflatable rat outside Nickerson Field as David Zaslav, president and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, gave his address inside the stadium. Thousands of graduating students, family members and educators attending the graduation ceremony had to walk by the protesters to enter the stadium.
Above the stadium, a small plane flew a banner that read, “David Zaslav — pay your writers.”
Kim Caramele, a writer and producer from North Stonington, Connecticut, said she hoped the protesters’ presence at the graduation ceremony helped give students a different perspective on what they should value in life.
“The writers being here today can help show the students that wealth is different than good,” said Caramele, a winner of Emmy and Peabody awards for work on her sister’s show, “Inside Amy Schumer.”
Inside the stadium, scores of students wearing red graduation gowns stood up during Zaslav’s speech and turned their backs on him. Other students booed during his speech and shouted in support of the striking writers.
Zaslav, a graduate of the university’s law school in the mid-1980s, was a contentious pick, with many alumni taking to social media with their objections.
In a statement after the event, Zaslav said, “I am grateful to my alma mater, Boston University, for inviting me to be part of today’s commencement and for giving me an honorary degree, and, as I have often said, I am immensely supportive of writers and hope the strike is resolved soon and in a way that they feel recognizes their value.”
Saying the rise of streaming has hurt their earning power, about 11,500 members of the Writers Guild for America walked off the job at the beginning of May, after talks on a new contract broke down, and they haven’t returned to the negotiating table since. It’s the first writers’ strike — and the first Hollywood strike of any kind — in 15 years.
The union is seeking higher minimum pay, more writers per show and shorter exclusive contracts, among other demands — all conditions it says have been diminished in the content boom driven by streaming.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has said that it had offered “generous increases in compensation for writers as well as improvements in streaming residuals,” including the highest first-year wage increase in a WGA contract in more than 25 years, and the creation of a new category of rates that would mean a new, higher minimum for mid-level writers.