Halyna Houtchins was killed at work on Thursday. She was 42 years of age and was killed by an actor who had fired what should have been his prop gun. Official reports state that the gun was supposed to be filled with blanks, but the circumstances surrounding Hutchins’s death and the injury of the film’s director, Joel Souza, are still hazy. However, it is clear that the entire crew of the film had raised concerns about safety on set for many weeks. Hutchins and one additional crew member were the only exceptions to the entire camera crew. walked off the jobHutchins was shot the morning Hutchins resigned over insufficient Covid-19 protections, lack of payment and poor gun safety.
Rather than hearing the workers’ demands, the producers instead hired non-union members to cut costs and keep to the production schedule. Since the news of Hutchins’s death broke yesterday, IATSE Local 44 reported that the prop master responsible for loading the gun was not part of the union.
This outrageous violation of workplace safety is just the latest example of Hollywood not taking safety seriously on set. As the IATSE organizing shows, long hours and poor safety procedures are all breeding grounds of tragedies and accidents.
Actor is one of the most well-known examples. Brandon LeeA gun that was supposed be loaded with blanks was also used to kill a second victim, whose death was also tragic. But this is just the tip. These are just a few of the ten years that have passed. numerousCrew stunt workers have been killed on movie sets — typically as a result of lax workplace safety precautions. An Associated Press articleIn 2016, we found that at most 43 people died on sets in America between 1990-2016, and that more than 150 people were left with life-altering injuries.
Hutchins’s death is made more complicated by the fact that the person wielding the prop gun was Alec Baldwin, a millionaire actor and a producer of the film in question. The extent of Baldwin’s role in the accident has yet to be disclosed to the public, but as a producer of the film, he must be held fully accountable for the set that he helped run and the procedures he was responsible for ensuring were followed. Baldwin should not be allowed to skate if he behaves in an unsafe or irresponsible manner.
Unfortunately, most workplace deaths in the TV and film industry are not investigated or treated with justice. The response to investigations is usually a minimal fine and no meaningful changes to workplace safety procedures or policies. These big entertainment companies have made a cold calculation. They are able to bear the fines for injuries and not take any steps to make their workplace safer. Their workers’ safety is more important than getting content out quickly.
As big stunts are increasingly pursued by Hollywood films, the number of deaths and injuries has increased. These are not accidents or tragic events. The bosses of Hollywood have clearly shown, again and again, that they don’t care about their workers. This must be seen as a labor issue.
Hutchins’s death comes in the midst of the IATSE contract negotiations with conversations about working conditions in film and TV are being openly discussed in broad sectors. The terrible and hyper-exploitative conditions for most entertainment workers aren’t just grueling, they are unsafe, as Hutchins’ tragic death shows. Entertainment workers need to organize and demand that unions refuse to work until there are adequate protections.
IATSE must demand an independent investigation into Hutchins’ death. Hutchins was a member the International Cinematographers Guild which is a branch IATSE. IATSE member Hutchins was killed in a workplace accident during a fierce struggle over working conditions. This should anger every IATSE member as well as anyone who believes workers have the right to a safe workplace. This should be a reminder to continue fighting for the working conditions these workers want, not the crumbs offered by their bosses.
Halyna Hutchins deserves justice. May she rest in peace.