An episode of the sixth season of Black Mirror anticipated exactly one of the circumstances against which members of the SAG-AFTRA union are protesting today: did Charlie Brooker’s dystopian series see us long?
There are those who criticized the sixth season of Black Mirrorarrived up Netflix last June 15, because it is too close to the present that we already live. And that couldn’t be more true in the case of the first episode, titled ‘Joan is awful’reflecting on a hot topic: the use of artificial intelligence in the entertainment industry. This is one of the thorniest issues on which the negotiations between producers (AMPTP which also represents large streaming video services such as Netflix and Disney+) and members of SAG-AFTRA, the union of American actors and artists currently on strike, are centered. But how does the first episode of season 6 of Black Mirror did he, for better or for worse, predict what would happen just a month later?
The AI problem in cinema and TV
Among the hot topics of the strike – together with an adjustment of wages and the residual quotas deriving from ‘reruns’ – is the use of artificial intelligence in film and television productions. SAG-AFTRA argues that manufacturers are promoting a business model that predicts the indiscriminate use of an actor’s image, once its image has been scanned and stored. This would happen for zero compensation or by paying the plaintiff a one-time salary. The results on screen could be gruesome and, more importantly, such a system would completely devalue the work of actors and their contribution to an artistic product.
Black Mirror: How ‘Joan is awful’ imagined the future
The concrete dangers of the artificial intelligence used by Hollywood were played out right in the episode of Black Mirror ‘Joan is terrible’. The episode follows a woman named Joan (Annie Murphy) who discovers the existence of a streaming television series that stages her life and is entitled ‘Joan is terrible’. In the series Joan is played by Salma Hayek which exactly reproduces Joan’s real-life events, moments after they occur.
Joan discovers that all of this is completely legal, as she allowed the Streamberry service (much like Netflix) to use her identity when she agreed to the platform’s terms and conditions. She also learns that the actress she sees on screen isn’t even Salma Hayek, but a lookalike of him recreated with artificial intelligence and licensed to the studio. By doing unseemly things, she thus tries to get the attention of the real Salma Hayek. The latter, although upset, cannot make claims because she signed to grant the rights to her image of her forever, so Streamberry can use it as she sees fit.
We won’t tell you how the episode ends, so as not to spoil the surprise for those who haven’t seen it yet, but it’s impossible not to notice some disturbing assonances with the problem denounced by the Hollywood actors union. The entertainment industry is indeed going in the paradoxical direction envisioned by Black Mirror? The two strikes in progress – that of the actors and that of the screenwriters – serve precisely to avert it.