Telemundo’s telenovela actors in Miami are about to vote on whether they will join SAG-AFTRA, the famous national guild of actors.
Almost 80 years ago, something very similar happened in Hollywood. A handful of brave actors also confronted the powerful film studio owners, managing to successfully create the actors’ union called the Screen Actors Guild.
The reasons that professional actors had in 1937 to join a union are still the same as those in 2017: to improve their working conditions and to negotiate fair compensation for their artistic work.
When Olivia de Havilland triumphed in 1939’s Gone with the Wind, Warner Bros. refused her request to sign with another producer. It was then that de Havilland sued the omnipotent studio and prevailed. The diva thus began the era of the artistic contract with definite terms.
Similarly, when Jimmy Stewart negotiated his contract for the movie Winchester ’73 in 1950, he demanded that Universal Pictures pay part of his salary with the gross profit of the box office. That was the first time that an actor would use his own “star power” for his personal gain, something very common in the film industry today.
Since then, the actors’ guild has introduced residual payments for television, set up pension and retirement funds, provided health insurance, and added innumerable labor protections on and off the set to enrich the life of the SAG-AFTRA actor in film, radio, television and the like, both in the United States and globally.
Today, when Telemundo airs a SAG-AFTRA film dubbed into Spanish, the film’s artists receive royalties for that broadcast. In contrast, when Telemundo shows one of its telenovelas dubbed to 35 languages, in more than 100 countries, the Hispanic actors do not receive a single cent. Worse still, the working conditions faced by these actors on set are not the best: working hours are abusively extensive. Overtime and rest days are not respected or paid.
For Telemundo president Luis Silberwasser, this current situation seems perfectly valid, so much so that he has publicly asked the “Telemundo family” of actors to vote against their joining SAG-AFTRA.
It is clear that Mr. Silberwasser does not understand that the life of an actor always depends on their own ability to create added value in their career, which allows them (among other things) to subsist adequately between televised projects.
This is not only about having the professional actor receive additional compensation for each exhibition of his image on camera (residuals), get health insurance or eventually receive a decent retirement. It also means that the professional career actor has the obligation of forging a professional figure that gradually grows, advances, achieves recognition and ultimately transcends other industry media of national and international scope.
The telenovela actor not only wants to survive, but to grow professionally and even opt for the illustrious awards offered by the television and film industry in the United States. Which professional actor in his right mind does not long to win an Emmy, a SAG Award or an Oscar?
It is not a coincidence that these coveted prizes are dominated by SAG-AFTRA actors, since the jurors who select the actors nominated to these awards are themselves mostly composed of professional actors belonging to SAG-AFTRA.
In that sense, it is very unlikely that Telemundo’s Hispanic actors will be content to only hope to win a TV & Novelas Award for a very simple reason: it would not have the same luster as an Emmy, when it comes to being considered for an important role in a given project, in such a competitive global industry.
In the same way that Mr. Silberwasser as a professional executive receives an additional monetary bonus, whenever Telemundo conquers the ratings in and outside the United States, those who make it possible —the professional actors— should also receive something additional and tangible in exchange for their work.
It’s about all being in bed or all on the floor.
It is time for the Telemundo actors to make their longed-for crossover and enter the 21st century. As their pioneering colleagues did in 1937, in unity they will enjoy the fruits of their talent and artistic work, both inside and outside the United States, as part of the epic National Guild of Actors of SAG-AFTRA.
Hernán de Béky is one of the nation’s premier Spanish commercial voice artists. His voice is heard daily in commercials, promos and movie trailers nationwide. He has over 400 film titles to his credit. He has won several awards, including three Emmys and a Clio award. Hernán is the Chair of the National Spanish Language Media Committee at SAG-AFTRA. 2017 marks his 29th anniversary as a proud member.