Matthew Modine to Vote Against SAG-AFTRA Deal With Studios, Calls AI Consent Terms ‘Surrender’

The National Board member says he “cannot endorse a contract that compromises the independence and financial futures of performers”

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 19: Matthew Modine attends the EE BAFTA Film Awards 2023 at The Royal Festival Hall on February 19, 2023 in London, England. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/Getty Images)

Matthew Modine plans to vote against ratification of the guild’s tentative agreement reached with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers earlier this month that ended the 118-day actors strike.

While acknowledging the agreement’s “improvements and gains,” the “Full Metal Jacket” and “Stranger Things” actor said he “cannot endorse a contract that compromises the independence and financial futures of performers.” He was already one of the SAG-AFTRA National Board members who voted against approving the contract and sending it for a vote to members.

“As a National Board member, it’s morally mandatory to stand beside and provide protection for fellow members. Especially those beginning their careers, those unable to defend themselves, and in this case, their identities, their voices and their physicality, from being taken away by technology no one fully understands,” he said, referencing the agreement’s provisions around artificial intelligence.

He added that it is “inappropriate” for the union to tell its members how to vote “without presenting the pluses and minuses of an issue.”

“To do so is disingenuous at best and duplicitous at worst,” he said. “Members need to understand what they’re signing away by consenting as written within this contract.” 

Modine’s statement specifically takes aim at the agreement’s focus on actors’ consent around the use of AI by the studios.

“Within the contract, the word ‘consent’ is evoked at least a dozen times. It is purposefully vague and demands union members to release their autonomy,” he explained. “Agreeing to consent means contractually giving a go-ahead to our employers to digitally capture and reconstruct our physicality and our voices using artificial intelligence. Once this information is collected, a member can be regenerated whenever and however the contract holder chooses forever.”

Modine argued that, within the context of the agreement, consent means “surrendering your physical and vocal identity to an employer,” calling it a “Faustian bargain,” “tyranny” and “submission.”

“If ratified, SAG-AFTRA members who consent will be digitally exploited in ways not clearly defined and are currently beyond our individual abilities to control,” he added. “The U.S. Government, with all its resources, doesn’t know how to create AI guardrails to provide protections for citizens. SAG-AFTRA certainly doesn’t have the financial resources or technology to navigate the AI tsunami crashing upon the shores of the entertainment industry.”

On Nov. 10, SAG-AFTRA’s National Board approved the contract with a vote of 86%. Modine, who was one of nine members to vote no, said that contract was not discussed in its entirety during a board meeting last week.

“During that meeting, the National Executive Director (NED) explained that it wasn’t necessary to read or discuss the contract in its entirety. Not being fully informed about this contract is like being told that Chicken McNuggets are only made of chicken meat,” he said. “Imagine how disappointed members would be if they learned what they were actually being fed. Not sharing the entire contract is irresponsible. Spinning the benefits of the contract as ‘historic’ and ‘seminal’ is as disingenuous as McDonald’s saying McNuggets are not grey goop balls filled with chemicals, antibiotics, beaks, ligaments, and chicken butts.”

While he acknowledged that SAG-AFTRA members will have a right to say no when asked about consent, he warned that some union members will be “forced, out of financial or career necessity, to relent and succumb.” In addition to warning about greater job reductions, especially for background and stunt performers, Modine said the loss of labor from AI would negatively impact the guild’s sister unions, primarily IATSE tradespeople and the Teamsters.

“Union means being joined together in cause and common interests. This was demonstrated by thousands of members over the course of the strike. We marched for a stronger union. We marched for a fair deal and protections. We stood together to ensure our work environments were safe. We must continue to demand financial participation in the work we collectively create,” Modine’s statement concluded.

“Going back to the negotiation room and continuing to work on the issues surrounding AI and consent does not negate nor will it dismantle the benefits the contract now holds. Going back into the negotiating room with a sincere effort to further protect members and to more accurately interpret the rules of ‘consent’ and the uses of AI is the necessary next step we must make.” 

The ratification vote, which started on Nov. 14, will run through Dec. 5.

SAG-AFTRA, which has thus far released a summary of the tentative agreement and did not immediately return TheWrap’s request for comment on Modine’s statement, plans to release the full details of the deal with the AMPTP on Friday.


One response to “Matthew Modine to Vote Against SAG-AFTRA Deal With Studios, Calls AI Consent Terms ‘Surrender’”

  1. You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Hires You Avatar
    You’re Nobody ‘Til Somebody Hires You

    And there’s the rub.

    Do you risk what you’ve managed to accumulate with all of the work that you’ve done in the industry in the past or do you play it safe and accept a less than desirable deal for the sake of holding on to what you’ve got?

    It would be shocking if the deal didn’t go through with an extremely high percentage of ‘yes’ votes. The union leadership underscored the point about the vast majority of SAG-AFTRA members making less than $28,000 a year.

    It would be interesting to learn how many SAG-AFTRA union members ended up getting evicted for not paying their rent, how many SAG-AFTRA union members ended up losing their house because they couldn’t pay their mortgage, how many ended up filing for bankruptcy, and how many ended up going to food banks.

    Is SAG-AFTRA going to provide any statistics in regards to what the more financially vulnerable SAG-AFTRA union members ended up losing while they were on strike?

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