As thousands of writers are on strike and marching in front of major Hollywood studios 3,000 miles away, award-winning Juneau author Vera Starbard is also demonstrating, holding a large banner from her home on Douglas Island, just across the Gastineau Canal. She hopes that when cruise ships pass by, the message will be seen.
“I think people might not even realize that we have people in the industry here in Alaska,” she said. “It’s important to know that there are Alaskan storytellers who contribute in a kind of Hollywood industry.”
Starbard is one of 11,500 writers from the Writer’s Guild of America union who have been on strike since early May to demand better pay, a stable wage structure and working conditions for writers of film, television and other forms of entertainment.
The strike — the first Hollywood writers’ strike in 15 years — has halted production and theatrical release of popular talk shows, films and TV shows on popular streaming platforms. It began after intensive contract negotiations with major Hollywood studios. Union officials said the studios had an “unwavering stance” and “revealed they intend to further devalue the writing profession.”
Starbard, whose names are Tlingit and Dena’ina Athabascan, is an Emmy-nominated author and her work has been featured on popular shows such as the PBS children’s series Molly of Denali, the Disney+ series SuperKitties, and ABC’s Alaska Daily recently discontinued after just one season.
Starbard has been writing professionally for over 25 years, including playwright, reporter and now television writer. Just last year, she said that the compensation she earned writing for Alaska Daily made her feel like she’d made enough money from writing to have a comfortable life.
However, her well-being has changed since it was revealed that the series had been canceled – which meant the quick end of a three-year deal – and the writers’ strike began.
“That’s just how this industry works — you can have a long-term contract that you’re bound by, but they’re not bound by you,” she said. “The strike is about making sure writers can aspire to make a living in the middle class.”
Despite the financial pressure the strike is likely to put on them — and the thousands of other writers who will not receive a paycheck for the duration of the strike — Starbard said it’s time writers received fair compensation for their work, and therefore, she continues to remain vocal on the subject both on social media and via the banner on her balcony.
Starbard said she currently has five projects on hold that will remain on hold until the strike is resolved. An Alaskan native, Starbard said it’s important to stand up for justice now, hoping that going forward the fight will help create opportunities for more diversity and inclusion in writers’ spaces. She said that is not currently the case and that she would like that to change.
A WGA negotiator said so Reuters that the Guild’s demands do not specifically address the issues of diversity, but aim to protect the economic stability of the industry for future authors.
According to a WGA reportAs of 2020, white men continue to fill most high-level TV jobs, including 58% of showrunners and 64% of executive producers.
“What studios are trying to do is make that harder, it’s getting harder to have more diverse spaces — diverse women, queer writers — historically, there haven’t been that many of us,” she said. “I think I got a record and a TV because the door just opens a little bit wider for me as a native television writer and native playwright and the studios are trying to just close that door again.”
Starbard said she believed the strike could last for months but wasn’t sure. The last WGA strike lasted about three months, from November 2007 to February 2008, during which time it resulted in a number of shortened seasons.
Emmy-nominated fellow Juneau residents like playwright Frank Henry Kaash Katasse and University of Alaska Southeast professor X’unei Lance Twitchell say they support Starbard and the other striking writers but aren’t part of the union themselves.
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807.