IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Did the 'Black Mirror' episode 'Joan Is Awful' predict the SAG-AFTRA strike? Some think so

"Black Mirror" viewers say AMPTP’s "groundbreaking AI provision" sounds awfully familiar.

Each episode of the anthology series "Black Mirror" imagines a world altered by technology — and recent headlines about artificial intelligence (AI) certainly make it seem like we're living in one.

The premiere episode from the recent season, which dropped on June 15, has resurfaced thanks to uncanny parallels with conversation coming out the SAG-AGTRA strike, which began a month later on July 14.

On July 13, SAG-AFTRA announced its membership — comprised of 160,000 professionals — had voted unanimously to strike, joining Hollywood’s writers on the picket line. The announcement followed failed negotiations with Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents major motion picture studios including Paramount, Sony, Netflix, Walt Disney Studios and Warner Bros.

Comcast, the corporation that owns TODAY’s parent company, NBCUniversal, is one of the entertainment companies represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

One of SAG-AFTRA’s main areas of concern is studios’ use of AI. In an open letter, SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher wrote negotiations most protect actors “likenesses” and ensure actors are “well compensated” when their work is used to train AI.

During a press conference July 13, chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland summarized what AMPTP called a "groundbreaking AI provision," saying, "They proposed our background performers should be able to be scanned, get paid one day's pay, and their companies should own that scan, their image, their likeness, and be able to use it for the rest of eternity in any project they want with no consent or compensation."

TODAY has reached out to AMPTP for comment.

SAG, Black Mirror
Left: SAG-AFTRA members, including president Fran Drescher. Right: Annie Murphy in the "Black Mirror" episode "Joan Is Awful."Getty Images

“Joan Is Awful” is a “Black Mirror” episode is about the intersection between AI and entertainment.

In the episode, a streamer called Streamberry — which, down to its logo's font and the opening sound of episodes is a parody of Netflix — introduces a technology that allows AI to create shows without employing actors.

In the world of the episode, actors sign away their likeness, which then belongs to Streamberry. Streamberry then uses phones to spy on viewers and collect data. From there, Sreamberry creates an invasive series about a single user’s life (with more planned on the way).

Since both actors and users signed away their rights by agreeing to Streamberry’s terms and conditions, they have no recourse once shows are made. Joan (Annie Murphy) and Salma Hayek, the actor who plays her in the show, decide to take down the streamer, building to a meta conclusion.

Online, people commented on the similarities between the AI-focused episode, “Joan Is Awful”, and studios’ proposed AI provisions.

“You can’t convince me they didn’t just watch joan is awful and thought, ‘Yeah you know what let’s do it,” one Twitter user wrote.

Another said the episode’s premise was “not too far off from reality,” calling it “chilling.”

The writer Joyce Carol Oates identified the connection: “The unauthorized use of a celebrated actor’s image to create entirely new, artificial content is part of the plot of “Joan is Awful,” calling it “not at all far-fetched, probably inevitable.”

"They are literally trying to 'Joan Is Awful' SAG-AFTRA like we all didn't just see it," another wrote.

It's a similarity the stars noted, too, when the show came out.

When speaking to, "Black Mirror" star Annie Murphy — who plays the titular Joan, whose life is turned into a show — said she was "terrified" by the episode's premise. At the time of the interview, SAG-AFTRA had yet to call a strike, but the Hollywood writers' ongoing strike had begun with similar concerns over the use of AI.

“When we shot (this episode) in September, we were like ‘Oh, this is really timely.’ It’s not just (creator) Charlie Brooker imagining (things). It’s literally happening right now at a rate that is so terrifying,” she says.

“I hope this show can spark some conversations about the scary repercussions that can happen if we let it go off the rails.”