Last week’s column “Why local stars die poor” generated plenty of debate.
Readers were commenting on reports that actress Shaleen Surtie-Richards couldn’t afford medical treatment in the days preceding her death.
The point of the column was to highlight the lack of labour laws to protect South African performers from exploitation in the entertainment industry.
And how a draft Performers Protection Amendment Bill is seeking to strengthen actors’ economic and workers’ rights.
But some readers seemed to miss the point, instead blaming local artists for not making provision for their own health and retirement.
Clayton wrote on Facebook: “You see all of us need to budget, we all have to pay medical aid, tax, insurance. Unfortunately actors have a look, character to uphold. They spend recklessly to fit the part. Instead they should be focusing on proper financial planning first. They do not earn that less to die poor. It’s poor planning.”
Leiza commented: “They should work wise with what they have as they know what is the T&Cs of their work. Put money aside as savings for when those dark days come. Every human being has a funeral policy of their own. Every working person has a policy if they not in any benefits at work. You need to help yourself.”
Agreed, each person should take responsibility for their own financial planning.
But this doesn’t change the fact that there is no statutory framework to protect performers’ rights, and help them to enter into fair contracts.
As long as the Performers Protection Act remains in its current state, artists will continue to be exploited, while the producers continue to profit.
It’s not fair, it’s not right, it must change.
The key is residual income, or royalties.
In Hollywood and other foreign showbiz industries, stars can live off royalties for years.
It can even serve as a pension.
By contrast, here in South Africa, actors generally earn a once-off “performance fee”.
They sign away their economic and moral rights in contracts that they have little to no say in.
There is no bargaining power because performers’ unions are not recognised under the current labour laws.
Meanwhile, the producers of successful shows will continue to earn income 10, 20 years later on licensing, distribution and broadcast rights.
Think of the royalties Shaleen could have earned from all the TV shows and films she starred in over the years.
It’s criminal that a “successful” actress could work for four decades and have nothing to show for it in the end.
She was a leading lady, but was treated like an extra.
We cannot allow the industry to suck in our talent and spit it out.
This is why we must support organisations like the SA Guild of Actors in their bid to reform entertainment industry labour laws.
Government must be guided by the Beijing Treaty, which grants performers four kinds economic rights for performances in TV and movies: the right of reproduction; the right of distribution; the right of rental; and the right of making available.