This article contains spoilers for black mirror “Joan is awful.”
SAG/AFTRA and WGA are now both on strike. The last time these two unions went on strike at the same time, it was 1960 when Ronald Regan was head of the Actor’s Union. The residues were the main point of contention then as they are now. However, some were raising eyebrows over another point of contention: the use of AI when it comes to recreating the images and likenesses of actors in television and film.
Twitter user Cris Parker (@3CFilmss) posted a video, which has already racked up 1.6 million views, of SAG/AFTRA spokesperson and strike negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland revealing Disney’s “groundbreaking” proposal on using AI to recreate actors’ likenesses in the media. “They proposed that our background artists could be scanned, be paid for 1 day’s pay, and that their company own that scan, their image, their likeness, and could use it for the rest of the year. eternity in any project they want without consent or compensation. If you think this is a revolutionary proposal, think again. This proposal, Crabtree claimed, was put on the table without warning Wednesday during negotiations .
SAG-AFTRA members on Disney’s “groundbreaking” proposal to use AI to recreate actor likenesses in media. 😬😬😬 pic.twitter.com/6XRPbJBJWQ
— Cris Parker (@3CFilmss) July 13, 2023
However, AMPTP said in an email to The Daily Dot that SAG-AFTRA’s claims that these digital likenesses are used for “eternity” without the artist’s “consent or compensation” are false: “The assertion made by SAG-AFTRA management that the digital replicas of background actors may be used in perpetuity without consent or false compensation. In fact, the current AMPTP proposal only allows a company to use the digital replica of a background actor in the film for which the background actor is employed. Any other use requires the agreement and negotiation of the background actor for the use, subject to a minimum payment.
All The same, many compare this ad to an oddly predictive Netflix episode black mirror TV show that covered this topic. In the season premiere, titled “Joan is awful”, a streaming service called “Steamberry” collects the conversations, phone calls, texts and all the interactions of its titular character Joan (played by Annie Murphy), an ordinary woman and director of a media company, for use all the very private data of her life to create a show about her without her consent.
In the show on Streamberry, Joan is played by Salma Hayek. What is soon revealed is that Salma Hayek isn’t actually playing Joan. It’s an AI-generated performance by Salma Hayek to which Streamberry owns the rights. Basically, the service has a deepfake of Hayek which he uses to torment Joan by broadcasting his life to the world. When Joan and Salma’s lives and reputations begin to be completely dismantled by the use of their images and likenesses, the two attempt to sue Streamberry. Unfortunately, Joan agreed to Streamberry’s “Terms of Service” which contained this clause, and Salma licensed her image in perpetuity.
This is quite unheard of when it comes to the professional livelihoods of actors. Not to mention that development, bit by bit, would start to take the humanity out of an art form that is all about, well, humanity.
Imagine a future where you could see James Dean, Marlon Brando or Elizabeth Taylor AI, with the help of Hollywood, trying to digitally put together a performance that is a robotic attempt to capture the iconic nuance, emotion and beautiful imperfections of these stars. Whether the Alliance of Film and Television Producers or the AMPTP admits it or not: many fear this is where it’s headed.
The response to this from Twitter users is unanimous that this idea is unequivocally dystopian and unethical. “It is morally wrong and strips actors of their identity, worth and work. Horrible,” wrote one user. Another practically shouted: “This is grotesque. I wish SAG-AFTRA every success!
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of other users, some actors, who support “dying on the hill” to never let studios depreciate a business that is fundamentally about people.
Another the platform user replied to Parker’s tweetwriting, “It’s gonna be crazy times..all the big movie stars have so much on film they can literally make an entire movie using just AI videos..stars wouldn’t need to ‘to be on set even at a movie location. Check out all those crazy “AI-Deep Fakes” videos.
Someone else wrote: “This raises some interesting ethical questions about the use of AI in media and the potential impact on actors.”
Another A Twitter user wrote“They better have done some market research, because – plus those of us who can scoff at the AI monstrosity once or twice, will understand that any kind of drama will be ruined. No only that, but what about the Yank-Fest award shows they put on?Greed is out of control.
However, like many technological advancements, the implementation of AI to keep stars “alive forever” seems inevitable. TVs, phones, even trains were all deeply feared in society before they were accepted and ultimately staples, if not necessities that have had profound effects on how our species functions. A user provided what he thought was the grim reality of the situation.
Another The Twitter user said, “The AI will write the script. AI will be the actors. The AI designs the sets. The AI will lead. AI will make the camera. There will be nothing practical, nothing physical, an entire movie created inside a mainframe computer. And the ticket price will always be crazy.
The Daily Dot has reached out to Cris Parker via Twitter DM and SAG/AFTRA via email for comment.
*First published: July 14, 2023, 6:51 p.m. CDT
Jack Alban is a freelance reporter for the Daily Dot, covering human interest/social media trends and real people’s reactions to them. He always seeks to incorporate evidence-based studies, current events, and relevant facts into these stories to create your not-so-average viral post.