Michelle Buteau on Hollywood strikes: ‘There are bigger conversations that need to be had’

The actress, writer and comedian's scripted series 'Survival of the Thickest' has just dropped on Netflix in the midst of SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes in Hollywood.

Michelle Buteau is in a very unique position. As an actress and writer who just dropped her first scripted show on Netflix, Buteau is very clear on the needs and demands both her unions are fighting for. The “Survival of the Thickest” creator and star caught up with theGrio on July 13, the same day SAG-AFTRA announced it was going on strike, joining the WGA in the first joint strike in more than 60 years.

In a nuanced and deep conversation, Buteau shared her perspective on the industry at large, the “basic needs” that actors and writers are demanding from the studios and where her mind was at on the same day that her long-awaited series landed on Netflix.

“Girl, I’m overwhelmed,” Buteau said at the top of the conversation. “My show drops on the day that we also are going on strike, the two guilds that I am in are both on strike. So, I feel, bigger picture, so lucky that I can talk about my show; it gets released in the wild and I’m so proud of it.”

Netflix's "Survival Of The Thickest" New York Premiere
Michelle Buteau attends Netflix’s “Survival Of The Thickest” New York Premiere at Metrograph on July 11, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

She told us that her experience starring and writing on “Survival of Thickest” and seeing how “the sausage gets made” has only made the demands from both writers and actors that much clearer for her. “We need change as things are evolving and people are getting richer, and we have to work more jobs for basic needs,” she explained.

“Things are shifting and it’s never linear,” Buteau added when reflecting not only on the state of Hollywood but the current state of our country. “I am so thankful that I get to work with a platform like Netflix who is so open-minded and has the license to do edgier, brighter, bigger bolder things.

“I’m really happy that I got to touch on one of the most important themes to me, which is body positivity, sex positivity [and] inclusion,” she continued. “To say that I want this trans actor or we must have more nonbinary people in or behind the camera, and Netflix to be like, ‘you’re absolutely right, let’s go,’ is amazing because I wouldn’t be able to do that before.”

Still, Buteau said that the industry is “paying more money for things” yet artists are not seeing the benefit. “I’m not just saying this is Netflix; this is everywhere,” Buteau added while considering her experience making television in the current state of the industry.

“Having the writers for 16 weeks instead of 20 because of budget … after the first week, my brain was broke. I was like, ‘How are we supposed to do this?” she said likening it to an episode of “The Amazing Race” but with her stories.

“To say that we can’t fly writers out for them to be on set while we film their episode that they wrote because of budget is insane,” she continued. “To cut writers and expect A.I. to understand what it’s like to be a plus-sized Black woman from New Jersey living her life and having queer friends in New York City … that’s insane! To figure out how A.I. is gonna capture what it’s like to be a Black trans performer? I mean, come on now, that’s just ridiculous.”

Buteau feels “there are bigger conversations that need to be had,” saying, “How do we protect art and culture and also take care of people? Why do you need to work three jobs just to have health insurance? That’s insane!”

For more on the SAG-AFTRA strike, head to the official site.

Buteau’s new series “Survival of the Thickest” is available to stream now on Netflix.

TheGrio conducted this interview before the SAG-AFTRA strike went into effect on July 14.

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