Loni Love attends Project Angel Food's 4th annual

There’s been a lot of misinformation about what counts as scabbing or crossing the picket line as the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) are on strike. Some misinformation springs from how different the world is from the last time either org struck (WGA in 2008). For example, influencers existed but didn’t have a name yet. So some might not understand how specific brand deals or sponsorships undermine striking laborers.

However, those in the union know what is and isn’t allowed. As a SAG-AFTRA member, comedian, activist, and talk show host, Loni Love knows. And yet, she decided to cross the line anyways for some short-sighted reasons.

Survival of the Thickest

Since before the SAG strike began, Love has shown support and solidarity for striking workers. Not just the WGA, but others like the now-unionized dancers at California’s Star Garden. However, less than one week into her union’s strike, she decided to promote friend and fellow comedian Michelle Buteau‘s new Netflix show, Survival of The Thickest, on Instagram. SAG has outlined that people should refrain from promoting struck work or struck companies’ projects, regardless of whether the promotion is paid or not. Still, in addition to a post on her Insta Stories, Loni shared two posters of the Netflix show with this caption:

I’m doing this because @michellebuteau is my friend and fellow comic who has worked really hard to have this moment… moments like these don’t come often for women like us.. her show is funny sweet and empowering… I’m proud of you Michelle.. even if I get kicked out .. it was worth it!!!

If promoting this show was a priority, Love could have shared this on or before July 12. While the strike began and the show premiered on July 13, the promotion was live through the 12th. (Which was also the day of the red carpet.) I sympathize if she didn’t watch Survival of the Thickest until the weekend, but at that point, it was too late to post. Love knows this too, because she wrote, “even if I get kicked out .. it was worth it.”

Love also appears to preemptively justify her promotion of stuck work by emphasizing “moments like these don’t come often for women like us.” One can assume the “us” here means plus-size Black women. And Love’s right that these opportunities are rare and should be championed. However, there will be even fewer opportunities and those women’s labor will continue to be devalued if the studios continue as is.

A symptom of a bigger problem

There are many reasons for the manufactured shortage in roles for people of color and those with different body types, especially for women. In addition to outright fatphobia, racism, and ableism, the current state of Hollywood relies on several systemic economic barriers. The corporate greed of these studios has only exacerbated existing issues. Unless you have multiple jobs and/or wealthy parents to get by, your chances of scoring a prominent role are infinitesimal regardless of talent. As so many actors’ pathetic residual checks have shown, “making it” by getting cast is just one phase. And it’s not the phase that pays the rent or puts food on the table.

@itskimiko “New media” ?? #oitnb #royalties #paycheck #netflix #orangeisthenewblack #brooksoso #soso #kimikoglenn ♬ original sound – kimiko

One of the most prominent shows with many women of color, fat women, older women, etc. was Netflix’s Orange is The New Black (OITNB). Alongside House of Cards, this was a flagship show for Netflix’s original programming and remains popular. However, many from the cast have come out during the strike explaining how abysmal their pay was and remains. The New Yorker did an extensive piece on disparity the day the SAG contract extension expired. This includes several performers keeping day jobs as multi-season regulars and not being able to afford to travel to set. Castmembers revealed to the publication that Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos bragged OITNB had a higher viewership than Game of Thrones. In the final (7th) season, Danielle Brooks (Taystee) made less than the child leads on season three of Stranger Things at that time.

I know people tire of the “Nepo baby” conversation coming back up every few weeks. However, this unfairness extends to the lack of roles for Black women and other people of color. Those most marginalized are more likely to represent the over 80% of SAG-AFTRA members making under $27,000 annually. Sure, some POC may have connections. However, on average, most don’t have that support and are likelier to be the people breaking in for the first time. They’re also the most likely not to have a spouse or family member financially supporting them, even outside the industry. Love is undermining Buteau and the people coming behind them both by undermining the strike.

Demanding better

Three Black comedians/writers/actresses in different performances. Mo'Nique in 'Bessie'; Yvette Nicole Brown in 'Community'; and Ashley Nicole Black in 'A Black Lady Sketch Show.'
(Warner Bros. Discovery/NBC)

In an earlier draft of this article, I listed the working conditions of many more non-Black (primarily white) actors—people who can’t make ends meet despite being in two or three hit shows. Until the strike, these stories were very rare for POC, especially Black women. Regardless of pay, many expect these performers to show gratefulness for even having a seat at the table. Despite the training and talent, millions stand ready to hurl with a version of “ungrateful diversity hire.” Having a show like Buteau’s do very well feels like it disproves this for what feels like the 12th time since at least the ’90s.

In that respect, I understand why Love feels compelled to make an exception for Buteau. (And it should be noted that Love is not the only person crossing the picket line at the moment, though she is the most high-profile person doing it and doing it knowingly.)

However, in addition to undermining the strike, it just isn’t exactly necessary for this show. Netflix is notoriously terrible at marketing most of its shows but it’s not like this series was buried in the platform. Since it premiered, Survival of the Thickest has stayed in the top 10 most-watched shows. Regardless of this success, the show doing well won’t mean much for Buteau if AMPTP (the association representing the studios) doesn’t fairly come to the bargaining table.

(featured image: Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)

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