By JAKE COYLE, The Associated Press.

Sean Penn strongly backed the current Hollywood screenwriters strike while speaking at the Cannes Film Festival on Friday, saying the dispute over artificial intelligence is “a human obscenity.”

Penn addressed the ongoing Writers Guild of America strike in a press conference for his new film, “Black Flies”, director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s harrowing, gritty drama about New York paramedics. Asked about the strike, Penn said “the industry has been upending the writers and actors and directors for a very long time.”

“There’s a lot of new concepts being tossed about including the use of AI. It strikes me as a human obscenity for there to be pushback on that from the producers,” said Penn, a veteran writer-director in addition to being an actor.

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Film and TV screenwriters earlier this month began striking after talks with producers broke off. The WGA is seeking better pay, new contracts for the streaming era and safeguards against the use of AI-scripted work-arounds.

“The first thing we should do in these conversations is change the Producers Guild and title them how they behave, which is the Bankers Guild,” added Penn. “It’s difficult for so many writers and so many people industry-wide to not be able to work at this time. I guess it’s going to soul-search itself and see what side toughs it out.”

After the press conference, Penn said in a statement that he meant to refer to the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which is negotiating on behalf of producers, not the Producers Guild of America.

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Penn’s comments come as the potential for a wider work stoppage in Hollywood may be growing. The Directors Guild is also negotiating a new contract with producers. The board of SAG-AFTRA, the actors union, this week voted to ask members for strike authorization as it prepares to enter negotiations for a new contract.

In Cannes, the strike has been a regular topic for American stars, filmmakers and producers. On Thursday, Ethan Hawke wore a shirt that read “Pencils Down.” On the festival’s opening day Tuesday, juror Paul Dano said he planned to join his wife, Zoe Kazan, on the picket lines soon.

“My wife is currently picketing with my 6-month-old, strapped to her chest,” said Dano. “I will be there on the picket line when I get back home.”

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At the press conference Friday for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny”, Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy, one of the top film producers, said “most people are in full support of the writers getting what they deserve.”

“The meta issue here is how that it’s being impacted by an industry that’s really changing, that is in the midst of change, both technologically and just basic aspects of how we work,” Kennedy said. “That’s going to take time. That’s what everyone is getting ready for.”

Melissa Romualdi

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