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SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris Talks State of the Union

On the eve of the SAG Awards, SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris acknowledges that the spotlight is shining particularly brightly on the union’s 160,000 members.

The Jan. 21 ceremonies at the Shrine Auditorium mark the first time the SAG Awards have an emcee, with Kristen Bell tapped to handle hosting duties at a show that will feature all female presenters. Carteris admits that those choices were quite deliberate at a time of profound change for women in the entertainment industry.

“Having Kristen Bell as the first host really speaks to our show evolving,” Carteris says. “She’s wonderful. And we had been starting to talk about doing all-female presenters since last year so it’s serendipity that it happened for this show.”

Carteris, who succeeded the late Ken Howard as president nearly two years ago, says current discussions with her fellow leaders have been particularly dynamic amid the need for profound change.

“Our recent conversations have had a real focus on pay parity and equity across the board — because there still is a disparity with what women and people of color are paid,” she says. “And because the industry is changing so rapidly, there is so much more diverse programming. There’s a need to reflect the real world.”

The show is taking place a mere three months after the first bombshell revelations about disgraced executive Harvey Weinstein, followed by the cascade of subsequent disclosures of alleged abuse by high-profile figures.

For Carteris, the issue has become a key part of her presidency. She issued a condemnation of Weinstein a few days after the first story broke, headed a panel in Los Angeles on Nov. 14 with Gloria Allred and another three days later in New York. She’s also persuaded the AFL-CIO executive council and the Intl. Federation of Actors to increase their efforts to deal with the problem.

The number of reports of sexual harassment that come into SAG-AFTRA have been averaging at least five a day — far above the level prior to October. Carteris and national executive director David White have asserted that the surge in reporting reflects a cultural sea change on the entire issue.

Carteris is also part of the commission that Anita Hill is chairing and she will meet with the union’s blue ribbon commission on safety that was created in October with a subcommmittee on sexual harassment.

“We want to empower our locals to have these conversations, too,” she says. “The conversations that I’ve had with top people, members of Time’s Up, are so exciting for me. The members have been great in terms of supporting our work on this issue. Even while I was on vacation, people came up to me to express that.”

Carteris says she’s been sexually harassed many times. She’s best known for portraying the valedictorian and school newspaper editor Andrea Zuckerman on the long-running series “Beverly Hills, 90210” and has also appeared in “Touched by an Angel,” “King of the Hill,” “NYPD Blue,” “JAG” and “Criminal Minds.”

“So this movement is not meant to go away and is not just a moment in time. I actually think this has empowered people who have felt isolated. It doesn’t mean everyone is coming forward. But this really has been a time where the feeling of isolation and abandonment for victims may have been reduced. To be alone in pain in that situation is difficult. I hope that people would feel more able to come forward.”

Carteris adds she can’t comment about the films and TV programs specifically other than saying, “The nominated work this year is outstanding. I can’t say what my vote is, but I can say that work speaks to a deeper understanding. These are not just the cookie-cutter films.”

Carteris won the union’s presidential election last August over Esai Morales and three others. She says she’s both humbled and proud.

“I find it to be an incredible honor to serve the members. Ken Howard said this and it’s true — to be of service is a real honor. It’s a lot of work. The fact that people are participating with the current level of involvement is really wonderful.”

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