Sean Penn Calls AI a ‘Human Obscenity,’ Slams Hollywood Studios as a ‘Bankers Guild’

Sean Penn is standing in solidarity with the WGA, whose members are currently on strike to fight for better wages and work conditions in the streaming era.

“The industry has been upending the writers, actors and directors for a very, very long time,” Penn said during Friday’s press conference for his latest movie “Black Flies,” which debuted in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. “My full support is with the writers guild. There are a lot of new concepts that are being tossed about, including the use of AI. And it just strikes me as human obscenity that there’s been a pushback [from the studios] on that.”

Penn also slammed Hollywood’s largest studios as serving as a “bankers guild” and added that “the first thing we should do in these [strike] conversations is change the [name of the] Producers Guild and title them how they behave, which is the bankers guild. It’s difficult for so many writers and people in the industry who cannot work.”

After the press conference, Penn released a statement to Variety saying, “I misspoke. I meant to say AMPTP [Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers], not PGA.”

A day prior, “Black Flies” premiered at the Palais, where it received a five-minute standing ovation. Directed by Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire and adapted from Shannon Burke’s 2008 novel, the story follows young paramedic Ollie Cross (Tye Sheridan), who dreams of going to medical school. But he struggles to study as he is thrust into the intense and mentally taxing work of responding to emergency calls in Brooklyn. Penn plays a hardened veteran, who teaches Ollie the ropes as they drive through New York City.

“It was a way to understand the city and its inhabitants,” Sauvaire told the room of reporters of making the film. “It was a way to get into life of people and to mix the divide between documentary and fiction.”

Sauvaire, Sheridan and Penn spent time in the back of ambulances in New York City before cameras rolled, and almost all of the harrowing situations in the movie, from blood-soaked gunshot wounds to disturbing scenes of domestic violence and life-threatening pregnancies, were drawn directly from real life experiences. After spending so much time in the field, Penn was left discouraged by the American healthcare system.

“With so many frontline jobs, people go into them largely with a desire to serve,” Penn says of the type of first responders depicted in “Black Flies.” “And then what they find is they are beleaguered, but short-term political game policies [mean] they are there to support a racket. This movie, I hope, adds to that conversation. We all hope it does because [paramedics] are treated as a really primitive force of saviors who are left to their own devices to create a better healthcare system and crap.”

As a result, greed underpins the healthcare system in America: “Just collect bodies to bring you here. Ka-ching ka-ching ka-ching of insurance. Money changing hands for everybody but those who are taken advantage of.”

At the press event, Sauvaire joked that his actors were so immersed in preparation, they’re able to act as real medics. “If you have a problem now, you don’t have to call 911,” he said. “You can call Sean and Tye.”

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