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The Writers Guild of America will picket Boston University’s 2023 commencement after the university confirmed Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav will remain as this year’s commencement speaker.
The guild announced Thursday its formal plans to picket Boston University’s All-Student Commencement Exercises at Nickerson Field on May 21, after a spokesperson for BU told The Hollywood Reporter that “there is no change in the university’s plans” to feature the WBD president at the graduation ceremony despite criticisms amid the writers strike from the guild, local DSA, labor and BU student groups. The work stoppage kicked off after the writers guild and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers failed to reach an agreement for a new contract on May 1.
Boston University first announced Zaslav as commencement speaker on May 4, alongside a list of this year’s honorary degree recipients, which includes Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. The announcement spurred backlash from members of the guild, including school alums, as well as several Boston-area Democratic Socialists of America groups.
In a previous statement, the WGA called the decision to select Zaslav as one of the school’s commencement speakers a “poor decision” and noted that both guild members based in Boston and students enrolled in the university’s film and television program have expressed “deep disappointment” over its choice to give a university platform to the WBD CEO.
“Writers Guild members are on strike because companies, including Warner Bros. Discovery, refused to guarantee any level of weekly employment in episodic television, attempted to pivot late night writers to a day rate, stonewalled on free work on script revisions for screenwriters, and refused to even discuss our proposal on the existential threat AI poses to all writers,” the union said. “Boston University should not give voice to someone who wants to destroy their students ability to build a career in the film and television industry.”
It added that the university “should expect student, Writers Guild members, as well as other unions and community groups to picket Zaslav’s commencement address.”
Along with calls to picket the event, groups like DSA-LA Hollywood Labor, BU Young Democratic Socialists of America and Boston DSA, alongside with the BU Grad Workers Union, have encouraged students to write letters to BU’s leadership and sport graduation caps that are decorated in support of striking WGA members. WGA writers have also directly criticized the move on social media in responses to the announcement on Twitter and Instagram.
“Zaslav and other Hollywood CEOs are currently refusing to negotiate with striking writers in good faith. Before the strike, Zaslav laid off thousands of media and entertainment workers while personally earning $246 million in 2021 alone,” the DSA-LA Hollywood Labor said in a statement on their Action Network page, which also features a petition to have Zaslav canceled as this year’s commencement speaker. “By honoring Zaslav with an invitation to speak now, at this critical juncture for the entertainment industry, BU is directly suppressing the future income of its graduates.”
The Hollywood Reporter reached out to Warner Bros. Discovery for comment.
The criticisms of the BU graduate and WBD president’s selection as commencement speaker come not just amid the ongoing strike, but the release of CEO compensation in regulatory filings in March and April with Zaslav among 2022’s exclusive nine-figure club, having earned $246.6 million.
Before that, the Warner Bros. Discovery CEO said in a May 5 CNBC Squak Box interview that he believed striking writers should be “compensated fairly.” He also said the company was “not glad” about the strike and its potential cost-cutting opportunities other CEOs had spoken to.
“We’re a pure storytelling company, and we’ve been fighting to get the greatest creatives to come work at Warner Bros.,” he continued. “In order to create great storytelling, we need great writers, and we need the whole industry to work together, and everybody deserves to be paid fairly. So our number one focus is, Let’s try and get this resolved. Let’s do it in a way that the writers feel that they’re valued — which they are — and they’re compensated fairly. And then off we go. Let’s tell great stories together.”
May 11, 9:15 a.m. Updated to include WGA’s picketing announcement and Emerson college criticisms
This story was first published on May 9 at 1:03 p.m.
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