Hollywood, Our Industry Is at Stake in the 2020 Election (Guest Column)

Disney Fox mega deal acquisition Illustration
Rob Dobi for Variety

The Trump Justice Department announced at the end of 2019 that it will seek to end the landmark Paramount Consent Decrees. These decrees arose from concerns in the 1940s that a group of entertainment companies wielded outsized power over the film business. They limited the largest Hollywood production studios’ ability to own movie theater chains, control ticket prices, and fill theater screens with their own content to the exclusion of independent films. The decision by today’s Justice Department to undo the decrees continues a disturbing trend of undermining laws and regulations that promote competition and curtail abusive practices of the largest corporations.

We are already seeing the effects of the Justice Department’s hasty approval of the Disney-Fox merger. This massive corporation has used its increased market share to aggressively pursue its franchise strategy while reducing the number of films it produces, creating an artificial scarcity that reportedly now extends to classic Fox movies like “Alien” which have been withdrawn from some independent movie theaters. This strategy may redistribute wealth to Disney, but it is a grave threat to independent theaters and independent film, along with the writers and others who create them.

The newest streaming services from traditional content companies — Disney+, HBO Max and Peacock— are all the product of companies permitted by regulators to consolidate horizontally, vertically, or both. By merging content companies with distribution channels — the very thing the Paramount consent decrees sought to regulate — these streaming services have been allowed to erect fences around their content, while under-pricing and bundling their services with other products, making it even harder for new independent producers to enter the market. Without reasonable regulations, this small group of powerful companies will be able to prevent new competition for writers’ work, once again using monopoly power to destroy free markets.

This is an unfair playing field that our unions must navigate in every negotiation cycle and that we must navigate with every individual deal. But fighting for a more level field doesn’t solely happen at negotiations with our employers, it happens in the halls of power. It’s clear that without a change in political leadership, the trend toward increased concentration will continue. To that end, my union, the Writers Guild, formed a PAC in 2008, because writers must have a strong, collective voice in our political process. It is not enough for us to make individual contributions to politicians we believe in; like it or not, in politics we are most powerful if we speak through our Guild, with one voice.

The days when creators could sit on the political sidelines and hope that good policy and respect for fair play would result in a thriving middle class are long gone. It is crucial we fight to elect representatives who will fight for us.

Callie Khouri is the Oscar-winning screenwriter of “Thelma & Louise” and creator and executive producer of
Nashville.” She recently directed the Lifetime movie “Patsy & Loretta.”