Dispatch From Malibu—Of Strikes, Star(r)s, Shutterbugs, and Settlements

Out here in la-la land, entertainment strikes have wreaked havoc with the normal financing and production of new programming. 

The directors were first to strike, then the writers, who were out for more than 100 days, and now the actors, whose contract expires in late June, have reached an impasse with the producers’ association. Labor law seems to be one of those topics that has gone the way of a canceled pilot in most law school curricula. Too bad. 

Word to the wise, law student: Convince your dean to bring it back, conjoined with a serious intellectual property understanding of emerging technology and how to divide revenues from new income pools such as DVD residuals, streaming, and made for new media, and someone on either side of the bargaining table will—as they say—write your ticket. Surprisingly, the local schools you would expect to corner this market haven’t yet—though my own institution, Pepperdine is making aggressive moves in entertainment study and competition to elbow aside the longstanding dominance of USC and UCLA. 

Even our dean, Ken Starr , whose prosecutorial discretion was once viewed dimly by the entertaining ones, is now pitching in to protect the most vulnerable of  Pepperdine neighbors in Malibu: Britney Spears , Brad Pitt, Pierce Brosnan , Lindsay Lohan , and the like from papparazzi. It’s a whole new world!

And speaking of not letting pilot programs fall through the cracks, when the directors, writers, and actors do figure out how much they should each take home in the back of the BMW from new media, the industry should do a special on race—not in America, but in its own industry. News that Supreme Court petition No. 07-1024, Screen Actors Guild v. Metoyer , has been withdrawn following the settlement of the case is hopefully good news for the parties, but a full airing of the facts (at least in some version where the names have been changed to protect the innocent, as anyone old enough to remember Jack Webb would have said) is important to the integrity of an industry whose visuals affect our own willingness to transcend racial stereotype often more than we know. 

For those of you who have left your Hollywood Reporter subscriptions lapse, Dr. Metoyer was hired to be the affirmative-action officer for the  Screen Actors Guild and was then herself dismissed in a nasty contretemps possibly over race (though also possibly fabricated invoices). Following her dismissal, she filed a cause of action under section 1981, and the 9 th Circuit (always a tempting target for review) teed up the issue of whether the presence of mixed motivation under that statutory provision excuses discrimination (which under Title VII, by express amendment, it would not).

Ben Winograd’s helpful column for Legal Times (subscribers only), picked up in SCOTUS blog , nicely outlined the procedural history, with former USC Law Dean and Judge Dorothy Nelson for a divided panel having ruled that the presence of nonracial factors in a 1981 case ought never to excuse racial motive. That seems right (as in just), but Judge Carlos Bea wrote a powerful partial dissent, suggesting his colleague was rewriting the statute and creating a circuit split. In any event, it would have been interesting—after the verbosity of Parents Involved —to see what the court would have done. 

So maybe, as I say, when the locals stop fighting among themselves, the entertainment community will instruct us at their own expense. The usual settlement agreement terms and a lot of pride might get in the way, but it shouldn’t. The importance of the issue with and the reputation of an industry that for a bit too long has let itself off easy by reminiscing about how it beat McCarthy (Joe, not Eugene or Charlie) commend it. Not too mention, of course, it is sort of reality programming, which the moguls like, because, well, there are fewer folks to pay. 

Anyway, if it went into production soon, it could be ready for the first weeks of the Obama presidency, when there will be a demand for looking back on how America transcended race, not just swept it under the rug.