Vico Ortiz on SAG-AFTRA Strike: ‘Burn it all to the ground and then start anew’

On August 19, 2023, TransLash Digital Producer Brennen Beckwith attended Them Fatale, an all king drag show. There he interviewed non-binary Caribbean actor and “Our Flag Means Death” star Vico Ortiz, who was headlining the show as their drag persona Vico Suavé. This is their conversation about the SAG-AFTRA strike and how QTPOC writers and actors are disproportionately impacted. 

By Brennen Beckwith, with additional reporting by Daniela “Dani” Capistrano

VICO ORTIZ Q&A: FULL TRANSCRIPT

VICO: I am really glad that it’s happening. I’m also scared, because change is terrifying.

There’s a big part of me that I’m just like, “why do we have these big studios?”

I mean, like, I understand why, but I’m also just like, what if we take this opportunity to just burn it all to the ground and then start anew? Without this requirement for these really capitalistic structures that are heavily following white supremacy.

What if we begin following the structures of community building that we do for independent films? I mean, I don’t have all the answers. But I’m just like, what if we take this opportunity to reframe everything, change everything — really restructure. Take a good look of like how we are currently working and see how unsustainable that is. And find more sustainable ways for not only economically, because we still operate unfortunately under a capitalist structure.

But like how do we operate in a way that is satisfactory to our soul, to our mind, to our hearts, to our community; and not in a way that just benefits the, you know, top five.

So I’m really glad it’s happening. I’m also terrified because I’m just like, when am I working again? I don’t know. But again, I don’t really need those studios to work again.

And art should just be art. (laughs) 

How do I like, nurture my soul and nurture something that I really love to do, and still make a living with it? Without necessarily requiring the need of like big studios?

So yeah, I’m very into the strike and very into taking this opportunity to see how we can do better for the next time.

BRENNEN: I think the studios just suppress queer art.

VICO: It’s not surprising that all of a sudden, when we had the highest numbers of diverse creators both in front of and behind the camera, all of a sudden it was like oh we’re, we’re not getting paid. Like what the fuck is going on? And it’s not surprising that it’s us who are — like we gotta change this shit. It’s clearly, it was meant for to work for a very specific type of person and that’s just not how society works anymore.

BRENNEN: And you’re breaking the mold.

VICO: Always and forever, always and forever. 

BRENNEN: So they’re pushing back.

VICO: Correct.

BRENNEN: I feel like we’re going through a queer Renaissance in film and television right now.

VICO: Yes, yes, yes.

BRENNEN: You’re right: it just so happens to also be one of the worst times for actors and writers to break into the scene and to make a living and a career out of it.

VICO: I mean, like you very much, said we’re, you know, as queer people we’re constantly breaking the mold. So what another perfect opportunity to be like, we’re gonna break the mold again! Because y’all clearly don’t want to work sustainably for the community. We are very much like how can we make this work for everybody and not just like the few five. So yeah, I love that.

BRENNEN: You’re so right. 

VICO: YOU’RE so right! Haha.

It’s really upsetting what’s happening all around and how studios are using the strike as a way to excuse poor behavior. Already the industry as is, is so uncertain. And the way that they’re maneuvering around stuff to pay less taxes, or just like save money. I’m like y’all are making millions millions of dollars. Like come on y’all, like do you really need all that? What are you doing with it, you know?

I’m taking the moment to sit down and also just like assess the way that I also work around myself right. You know the second the world opened up, the cycles of capitalism began once again. I noticed myself again like barely sleeping, trying to go go and I’m just like, wait a minute this is not sustainable for me either.

So again, taking this opportunity as well to kinda be like, how can I really nurture myself in a way that when this new contract comes in, or like whatever proposals we make and whatever agreements we make, or if we burn it all to the ground and start anew. How can then I have a sustainable practice with myself?

BRENNEN: Hopefully we come out the other side, better.

VICO: I hope so too, I hope so too. It’s gonna take a bit though, it’s gonna take a bit. It’s gonna be, it’s gonna be a long one….but very necessary. Very, very necessary. 

Vico Ortiz on SAG-AFTRA picket line in Hollywood, holding up SAG-AFTRA On Strike Sign
Vico Ortiz on the SAG-AFTRA picket line in Hollywood, California, holding up a “SAG-AFTRA On Strike Sign” in their right hand. Vico is standing in a crosswalk wearing a black shirt, black shorts, dark sunglasses, and a dark hat. Image source: @puertoricaninja

ABOUT THE SAG-AFTRA STRIKE 

As of August 30, 2023, it is now day 121 of the WGA strike and Day 48 of the SAG-AFTRA strike.

On July 14, 2023, the Screen Actors Guild – the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, also known as SAG-AFTRA, announced they would be going on strike due to ongoing labor issues with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The Today Show reported that the union represents an estimated “160,000 people in the entertainment industry, including actors, recording artists, radio personalities, and other media professionals.”

Actors and other SAG-AFTRA members are on strike for better pay and working conditions. Union members are asking for an 11% increase to their baseline pay and an 8% raise over the next two years. This raise will make up for the inflation, as explained in a document shared by SAG-AFTRA.

Reduced compensation is one major concern for the union, especially around payments called residuals. Actors receive residuals when their work is re-used beyond its initial performance, such as when a movie or show is re-aired or re-released on DVD or basic cable.  

Actors receive residuals when their projects are shown on streaming services, too — but according to SAG-AFTRA, they are compensated at a much lower rate for streaming projects, and their pay is calculated differently.

Vico is far from the only queer actor speaking out about their frustration with the streaming industry. In an interview with the Evening Standard, Billy Porter discussed the financial strain of the strike forcing them to sell their house.

LGBTQ+ writers held a “Trans Takeover” in May picket outside Netflix. Sydney Baloue told Variety “we don’t have a trans or non-binary ‘Will and Grace.’ We’re not in sitcoms. We have yet to even have truly a trans movie star,” Baloue explained. “We want to write those roles for those people. This is a civil rights movement of our generation.”

Trans actress Tommy Dorfman expressed in a Threads post that “I did all of the promo, flew round trip from New York to San Francisco to shoot for every episode, was kept for days without pay/working. I barely qualified for insurance. Within the first 28 days of release, season one garnered a total of 476 million view hours. This is why we strike.”

 “Our Flag Means Death” Season 2 continues the swashbuckling adventures of Stede and Blackbeard, with heartbreak and romance at the forefront. The Season 2 trailer dropped on August 30, 2023, welcoming back familiar faces and introduces new characters, promising a thrilling and entertaining high-seas journey.

Season 2 premieres with its first three episodes on Thursday, October 5, on Max. Two episodes will air weekly leading to the season finale on October 26. Watch the teaser trailer below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jHCsauMyJk0

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