The villains in both the writers' and actors' strikes going on in Hollywood are studio big-wigs who insist they're too poor to pay artists what they used to pay them, by way of longer network season schedules and residuals. And while Meghan Markle may not need her union anymore or her residuals from the streaming of Suits, it maybe wasn't a great look for her to be seated next to Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos at the Beyonce show Monday in Los Angeles.
Meghan and Harry's Archewell Productions continues to have a $100 million development deal with Netflix, inked three years ago, even though nothing has come of it yet besides that 2022 documentary about them. And as Bay Area News Group notes, this sort of makes Meghan part of "management" now, and no longer one of SAG-AFTRA's rank and file.
Netflix's Los Gatos headquarters has been the scene of picket lines at least twice since the strikes began, and Sarandos was quickly singled out by striking writers in particular, as the New York Times reported. When asked during a recent Writers' Guild summit which studio had been the worst to writers, two panelists answered "Netflix" in unison, and the room of 1,800 laughed and applauded.
Writers' picket signs have said things like "Please Cancel Netflix Until a Fair Deal Is Reached," and "I shared my Netflix password. It’s 'PAY ME'!"
As one experienced writer, Peter Hume, who has worked on shows like Charmed, explains to the Times, "I have 26 years of continuous service, and I haven’t worked in the last four because I’m too expensive. And that’s mostly because Netflix broke the model. I think they put all the money into production in the streaming wars, and they took it away from writers."
Meanwhile, Markle, who was seen in a VIP box Monday seated with A-listers including Sarandos and Jeff Bezos watching Beyonce at SoFi Stadium, previously expressed her love of her former union in her widely-seen Oprah interview. She told Oprah that she had gone to the royal family's HR department and said, "I just really need help. Because in my old job, there was a union, and they would protect me."
SAG-AFTRA quickly tweeted their support at the time, saying, "We are still here for you, Meghan. Everyone deserves the protection of a union."
Markle, who had only modest success as an actress, most notably appeared on the USA drama Suits, which aired from 2011 to 2019 before gaining fresh life in streaming, on Netflix.
Complaints from SAG-AFTRA members include the fact that their residual payments — which typically came from traditional TV shows in traditional syndication — have dropped significantly since the streaming age began. And actors don't know how to renegotiate the formulas of how residuals get paid, in part, because streamers and the big studios aren't being transparent about viewership and other metrics — and the world of TV has become far more diverse in terms of platforms.
"It’s impossible to figure out what’s fair if you don’t know what’s real," says director Steven Soderbergh, speaking to Rolling Stone. "They will not open the books, so how do you figure out what’s fair if you don’t know what’s going on?"
Now that Markle has Harry money — and Netflix contract money — to depend on, she is no longer as worried as her former acting cohort about how big her residual checks may be. And this leads to some further sour grapes in seeing her at the Beyonce show with old Ted.
It is also be true that Archewell Productions is among the firms producing unscripted content that will help tide over Netflix until the strikes end and they can start shooting new shows. Archewell has an unscripted-content division, out of which that Harry & Meghan documentary was made, and its latest offering is Heart of Invictus, a doc about the Invictus Games for injured military service members that landed on Netflix last week.
Top image: INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 04: (L-R) Kerry Washington, Kelly Rowland and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, attend the "RENAISSANCE WORLD TOUR" at SoFi Stadium on September 04, 2023 in Inglewood, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage for Parkwood)