A night shoot at the Chateau Marmont for Aaron Sorkin’s Being the Ricardos was canceled just hours before production was to begin Thursday, April 22, when it ran afoul of a union picket line and a celebrity-fueled boycott movement.
Over the past year, the legendary hotel has faced allegations it unfairly left its workers without affordable health care during the pandemic and permitted a climate of racial discrimination and sexual harassment before COVID-19 hit.
“Writer-director Aaron Sorkin, the cast and crew of Being the Ricardos stand in solidarity with The Chateau Marmont’s workforce,” producer Todd Black said in a statement provided to The Hollywood Reporter on Thursday after the publication contacted participants in the film, including key talent, earlier in the day for comment on the planned shoot.
Black added: “We are committed to supporting and building a safe and equitable environment where everyone has the right to work with dignity and free from fear. We are thankful to the organizers of the hospitality workers’ union of UNITE HERE Local 11 for sharing this information about the mistreatment of the workers. The production took immediate action to shut down the 1-day shoot as soon as this was brought to our attention.”
Left unanswered was how the production had no apparent advance knowledge of the claims against the Chateau, which have been the subject of substantial news coverage over the past year.
“We commend Aaron Sorkin for putting into practice the ideals of free speech and social justice that he depicted so brilliantly in his Oscar-nominated film The Trial of the Chicago 7,” says Unite Here Local 11 co-president Kurt Petersen. “This is the kind of leadership we need in Hollywood, and we urge everyone else in the industry to follow his lead and honor the boycott of the Chateau Marmont. We also thank members of SAG-AFTRA, Teamsters, Directors Guild and IATSE for their solidarity.”
When asked for comment, a Chateau Marmont spokesperson stated, in part: “Throughout its history, the Chateau Marmont has always been a safe haven for creative people to express themselves in accordance with the First Amendment. Today, Unite Here Local 11 broke that century-long compact by disrupting a union production who had the legal right to film on the hotel property.”
Ricardos, announced in January, stars Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball and Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz, dramatizing the iconic couple’s lives during a week of production on I Love Lucy.
Amazon Studios is behind the feature. The trillion-dollar company has been at the center of the national labor conversation, especially after it successfully fought off efforts in early April to unionize its workers at a large Alabama warehouse. In September 2020, dozens of Chateau employees first told THR about a toxic workplace where they claim staff have not been protected from VIP guests and owner Andre Balazs himself, who stands accused of a pattern of racist hiring preferences and groping. He and the Chateau have denied all claims.
Multiple employment discrimination lawsuits have since been filed against the Chateau, and Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, who took office in December, has since indicated he’s keeping an eye on the situation. “Workers can often feel powerless when dealing with hostile workplaces, dangerous work conditions and wage theft,” he’s said.
If the Ricardos shoot hadn’t been called off, the unionized cast and crew would’ve needed to themselves decide whether to cross Unite Here’s picket line. In January, SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris spoke out about the Chateau, urging solidarity with hospitality workers while observing that her rank-and-file members, who themselves often are employed in the restaurant and hotel service field while pursuing acting careers, struggle with the same burdens. (SAG-AFTRA didn’t return a request for comment for this story.)
Jane Fonda, who played cable news owner Leona Lansing in Sorkin’s The Newsroom, was the first big industry name to sign on to a union-organized boycott of the Chateau, which now includes the likes of Alfonso Cuarón, Lena Headey, Edie Falco, Constance Zimmer, Eliza Dushku and Alison Pill. The most recent is Fonda’s co-star on Grace & Frankie, Martin Sheen, who portrayed Democratic President Jed Bartlet on Sorkin’s The West Wing.
Sorkin, long a darling of the Hollywood liberal establishment for his work’s social conscience, is the writer and director of last year’s anti-Vietnam War protest drama The Trial of the Chicago 7, which is up for six Academy Awards at this Sunday’s Oscar ceremony.
In 2018, John Krasinski told Deadline that he’d spent years working with Sorkin on a planned limited series about the Chateau. “Aaron Sorkin and I were going to do it at HBO,” he explained. “We were taking our time with it, and then Aaron got busy with everything Aaron’s been busy with, and it just went slowly away.” Krasinski has since optioned Shawn Levy’s biography of the hotel, The Castle on Sunset. “We’re going to give it another shot.”
The full response to THR from the Chateau Marmont on the cancellation of the shoot is below:
While we respect the rights of union leaders to advocate for their members, we feel it’s important to stress that our staff is paid wages that significantly exceed those offered at other hotels — both unionized and not — in our region.
The exorbitant and gratuitous disinformation campaign that Unite Here Local 11 is waging is nothing but an attempt to intimidate and bully our current employees, who dared to choose lucrative staff positions with excellent benefits over union jobs, where a significant portion of their dues would be spent harassing non-union workers.
Throughout its history, the Chateau Marmont has always been a safe haven for creative people to express themselves in accordance with the First Amendment. Today, Unite Here Local 11 broke that century-long compact by disrupting a union production who had the legal right to film on the hotel property.
Instead of questioning the Chateau Marmont’s business decisions that are keeping the hotel open during a pandemic, perhaps the members of Unite Here Local 11 should be demanding a proper accounting of how their dues are being spent and why.