Being played

Published on 26 August 2014 in Culture
Ali Abulohoom (author)

Ali Abulohoom

Actors and actresses claim the location they were sent to receive their wages was changed to a guarded compound in an effort to dissuade any backlash against the unexpectedly low pay‭.‬

Actors and actresses claim the location they were sent to receive their wages was changed to a guarded compound in an effort to dissuade any backlash against the unexpectedly low pay‭.‬

Pay down 70 percent from last year, Yemeni actors say

Unlike previous years, Yemeni actors and actresses on state-run TV channels were asked to go to a protected compound, called “Tourist City” in Sawan district, east of Sana’a, to receive their wages for their acting in drama series which aired during Ramadan.

Actors and actresses say the wages were far below what they had been expecting, and that having them head to the compound to receive their salaries was in an effort to better manage the expected backlash. The compound is fortified by security forces, according to Jalal Al-Badai, a Yemeni actor who appeared in Droob Shaeka, or “Barbed Routes,” in addition to two other series.

Usually, the wages are disbursed in public place like cafes. However, this time the location of payment was changed to minimize the impact of any attempt by the actors to express their anger publically.

Many state-run and privately-produced dramas only film during the season preceding Ramadan, causing many actors and actresses to work an intense amount for a short period of time, and have the rest of the year off. This custom was adopted from Egypt. In both countries, a number of citizens are able to take the entire month of Ramadan off, meaning more TV time. Even for those working during the holy month, gathering around the TV for a Ramadan drama with the family is tradition.

Abdulaziz Al-Harazi, head of the Yemeni Actors Union, harshly criticizes the practice of producing series for only one month of the year, leaving actors and actresses unemployed for the rest of the year. For those without second or third jobs, that means no income for 11 out of 12 months.

While in Egypt dramas and movies are now year-round, in Yemen they are still only filmed once a year.  This, combined with the fact that Egyptian dramas are broadcast throughout the Arab world while Yemeni dramas are largely produced for Yemeni audiences, means that actors and actresses in Egypt are faring better than their colleagues in Yemen.

Other actors and actresses say their grievances go far beyond the dearth of production, but extend to the treatment they receive from producers.

Actors complain that unlike previous years, they were not provided with contracts before filming began. Producers said they would supply them with their contracts after the first episode, and then after the second episode, and then the third, but the contracts never came. Not having signed any contracts, actors are unable to take their grievances to court, despite being paid about one-tenth of what they were paid last year.

The wages were an “insult to our dignity,” Al-Badai exclaimed.

After collecting their wages and realizing what had happened, Al-Badai says that “many actors looked so grieved you would think they had lost a loved one. Some could barely walk, overcome with grief and sobbing. I was in such shock I had to lie down on a bench. Some screamed and refused to accept the wages. It was all in vain, everyone was forced by circumstance to accept the meager wages.”

Sara Jaber, an actress with the Yemen TV channel, said she repeatedly asked producers for a contract during shooting, and that they kept brushing her off until the whole series had been filmed.

Abdularahman Dalaq, the production manager at the state-run Yemen TV channel, calls the actors’ complaints “groundless.” Although actors have received their contracts before filming every year, Dalag claims the actors “never asked” for the contracts this year.

Dalaq did, however, confirm that actors and actresses were not provided contracts. He blamed this on the Ministry of Finance, who he said delayed dispersing the funds this year.

Dalaq admits that the funds were dispersed two weeks before filming, which would not account for why the actors and actresses would not receive their contracts prior to shooting.

He deemed it unnecessary to inform actors about their lower wages this year, as salaries are usually not discussed and “telling actors ahead is useless.”

Dalaq believes actors and actresses should take into consideration that they are working for a state-run channel, “dedicated to serving society and improving it through its commentary on social values.” He discouraged actors from focusing on “profiting.” Dalaq declined to divulge his wage, so it is unclear whether, as a state employee, he is also sacrificing “profit” for the “improvement” of society.

“Every year we are the victims of the producers’ greed, but this year the situation reached the pinnacle of injustice when we received what amounts to one-tenth of our salaries compared to last year,” Al-Badai said.

The actual amount was between 20 and 30 percent of last year’s salaries, according to the numbers given to the Yemen Times by Al-Badai. Dalaq declined to reveal the amount paid out to actors this year, saying the information was private.

According to Al-Badai and Jaber, the wages they received were determined based on the role the actor or actress played in the series, with three ranking positions: starring roles, second support, and third support.

Last year, those acting in starring roles were paid YR30,000 (about $150) per episode. Those acting in secondary supporting roles were paid YR25,000 (about $120) per episode, and those in third supporting roles were paid YR20,000 (about $100) per episode.

Al-Badai told the Yemen Times that starring actors and actresses received only YR6,000 ($30) for each episode, the secondary roles got paid YR5,000 ($25) whilst the third role received YR4,000 ($20). Dalaq declined to comment on these figures.

Al-Badai and the rest of the series staff protested the pay, but without contracts, they had nothing to stand on and were forced to accept the rates.  

“What choice did we have? Especially so close to the Eid holiday, when our children were expecting new clothes,” Al-Badai asked.

Ahmed Yahya, a 60-year-old actor, explains, “you can imagine my shock when I received YR60,000 ($280) for my work. I need at least YR300,000 ($1,400) to get my wife treatment for her blood clot.”

Al-Harazi said he and the union warned the actors. “I held several meetings with the actors and actresses, advising them not to work without contracts.”

Ahmed Al-Mamari, a Yemeni actor, refused to act in any government-funded series this year.

“I only worked in the private sector because the rights of actors and actresses are more secured than in public sector. We signed the contracts [before starting work] and our allowances were disbursed through weekly installments until the end of the series,” said Al-Mamari.

Al-Mamari, along with several Yemeni actors and actresses, acted in “Al-Madina Route,” a series produced by the private TV channel, Yaman Shabab.

Al-Badai says he has learned his lesson. “For me, I learned from this lesson and I will never participate in any drama unless I sign a contract ahead.”