KENYA ACTORS GUILD: WHAT AND WHY.
The word “guild” is from the Saxon “gilden” meaning "to pay" and refers to the subscription paid to the Guilds by their members. Other words associated with the term guild include association, society, brotherhood, company, fellowship, fraternity and livery. The guilds of the Middle Ages were licensed from 1170 and were similar to modern labor unions where the guilds set standards for their professions and protected the interests of their members.”
Actors worldwide should and are identified and protected by Guilds and the most common known guild in the world for actors is the Screen Actors Guild (SAG now known as SAG-AFTRA after merging with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists). “According to SAG's Mission Statement, the Guild seeks to: negotiate and enforce collective bargaining agreements that establish equitable levels of compensation, benefits, and working conditions for its performers; collect compensation for exploitation of recorded performances by its members, and provide protection against unauthorized use of those performances; and preserve and expand work opportunities for its members" Wikipedia.
Other striving guilds include the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) and South African Guild of actors (SAGA) which were both formed to protect the rights of their members.
Let us take a look at the reasoning behind SAGA and I am sure any actor around the world can relate to these words; “As actors, we are all aware of the dangers and limitations of acting as a profession. South African actors have never had meaningful representation to fight injustices that threaten their livelihood. History and sometimes bitter experience have taught us that a lone voice is not going to suddenly infuse the entertainment industry with justice, fairness and integrity. In most cases, individual actors do not have the financial resources to take contractual disputes to court. The only way to create an improved working environment in the entertainment industry is to stand together and act with a common purpose.” http://www.saguildofactors.co.za/
Kenya being an emerging film country, its acting fraternity is hindered from achieving its full potential and this can be attributed to the fact that it lacks an active guild to protect the rights of the actor, take care of the welfare of actors and most importantly, let actors speak with one unified voice to drive and dictate policies.
Situation on the ground is currently as follows: Actor A does work for production company/producer/director/casting agent B and has never been paid for the job done or is paid outside the agreed timelines or is not paid the amount initially agreed upon. Actor A does not know who to go to so that the situation can be salvaged.
Another scenario; Actor B falls sick and cannot pay hospital bills and ends up suffering alone and yet he/she is supposed to be part of the fraternity we call Kenyan actors.
Yet another scenario, an international production house comes to Kenya to shoot a movie and cannot do so because there are no guidelines and regulations in place to negotiate for the actor. The production company then opts to get actors from other countries to come shoot in Kenya because they know if anything happens, the actors can be held liable through their respective guilds.
The government of Kenya does not recognize actors and the arts industry as a revenue income profession because of lack of a body and structures to drive polices. This is evident by a single and the only line in the constitution that touches on the arts and it reads “Every person has the right to freedom of expression, which includes—freedom of artistic creativity” Chapter four, part 2, article 33B.
In unity there is strength, in numbers there is a strong voice. It is about time actors unite and stop the idea of “I will do it on my own” and come together for the prosperity of our acting industry. Sadly, no one will do this for us and it us upon ourselves to do so. You alone cannot change a whole industry. I alone cannot change a whole industry. Try putting you and I in tandem and we have a force to reckon with.
There is light at the end of the tunnel as a guild that was once formed is in the process of being resurrected and below are its main objectives:
MAIN OBJECTIVES OF THE KENYAN ACTORS GUILD
The main objectives of the Guild are to represents it’s members through :
(a) To promote the Intellectual Property Rights within Kenya and in particular among performers through
sensitization, education and empowerment of Kenyan performers;
(b) to agitate and lobby for equitable levels of compensation , benefits and working conditions for performers ;
(c) the collection of compensation for exploitation of their recorded performances and protection
against unauthorized use; and
(d) the preservation and expansion of work opportunities.
Written by Gerald Langiri