Pandemic, Production, and Labor: COVID-19 as a Catalyst for Industrial Change in Hollywood

Nolan, Samuel, Media, Culture, and Technology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Kokas, Aynne, AS-Media Studies, University of Virginia

COVID-19 and its related disruptions have revealed significant imbalances of power and inequitable social practices. In the American film and television industry, these disruptions have led to the formation of a critical juncture - a period of time in which previously held institutions, social rituals, and norms of practice are pressured to the point of collapse. This critical juncture has led to a reevaluation of labor practices for both above and below-the-line workers in Hollywood, as illustrated by two majorly publicized events: actress Scarlett Johansson’s lawsuit against the Walt Disney Company and major union IATSE’s nearly averted worker strike. I use these events and their ensuing industry press coverage as case studies, wherein I employ critical and historical discourse analysis to demonstrate that both cases are emblematic of a wider shift within Hollywood: reclamation of creative worker autonomy and freedom from corporate studio producers. I conclude that both case studies, while possessing comparable historical antecedents, are historically unique as they were both directly induced by COVID-19 disruptions. In this way the COVID pandemic has acted as a catalyzing force, quickly accelerating already existent trends within Hollywood’s established norms and practices.

MA (Master of Arts)
Film Studies, Industry Studies, Labor, Hollywood, Media Studies, Movies, Film
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