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‘You really hate unions, huh?’: BU community angered after Warner Bros. CEO announced as commencement speaker amid writer strike

David Zaslav, president and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery, is a graduate of BU's School of Law.VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images

Felipe Torres Medina opened Twitter Thursday morning to an announcement from Boston University, his alma mater, that he called a horrifying “slap in the face.”

Since Tuesday morning, Torres Medina has joined thousands of fellow film and television writers represented by the Writers Guild of America striking across the country. Now, he read, the school where he earned his 2015 master’s degree in screenwriting had selected David Zaslav — president and CEO of Warner Bros. Discovery and the very man he had spent dozens of hours protesting — as its 2023 commencement speaker.

“It’s horrifying,” Torres Medina said. “I think it’s just a very ‘read the room’ moment for BU.”


More than 11,000 members of the Writers Guild of America, or WGA, left writers rooms from New York to Los Angeles this week, the first Hollywood strike in 15 years. Writers are protesting for better pay and job security, among other demands, and have yet to engage in talks with the trade association representing studios and productions companies.

In an e-mail statement to the Globe, Jason Gordon, director of communications for the Writers Guild of America, East, expressed “deep disappointment with the University over its poor decision” to provide Zaslav a platform.

“Boston University should not give voice to someone who wants to destroy their students’ ability to build a career in the film and television industry,” Gordon wrote. “The University should expect students, Writers Guild members, as well as other unions and community groups to picket Zaslav’s commencement address.”

Protestors argue Zaslav, who claimed almost $250 million in “excess pay” in 2022, epitomizes Hollywood’s vast pay disparity between writers and executives, who, Torres Medina said, are “gutting shows, gutting streaming services, [and] pulling shows and movies from streaming services so that they don’t have to pay residuals” at the expense of writers’ salaries.


Tara Mullaney, a 20-year-old film and television student at BU, had been following the WGA strike very closely when she saw the announcement that Zaslav would speak at commencement. But Mullaney said the announcement doesn’t surprise her, given BU’s track record with unions.

“Our graduate assistants are trying to unionize, our RAs are trying to unionize, and BU has not been receptive to it at all,” Mullaney said. “When they announced Zaslav as the speaker, everyone was kind of like, ‘Oh, you really hate unions, huh?’”

On Twitter, the university’s announcement hailing Zaslav’s work overseeing “the launch of some of the fastest-growing networks in the US and the rise of popular channels” received hundreds of responses. Current students, graduating seniors, alumni, and others admonished the university for its failure to, as Torres Medina and many others put it, “read the room.”

“It wasn’t a good look for BU because of so many alumni they have on the picket line right now,” Mullaney said. “They had this speaker for a while, [but] it’s just very poor timing on their part.”

Having spent the last week on the picket line and with no sign of a resolution in sight, Torres Medina called the WGA strike “a fundamental battle for the existence of writing as a career.”

Torres Medina loved his time at BU, he said, and “wouldn’t be here and have the career I have were it not for going to BU to study.” But, he added, he found it “truly depressing” the school would select a multimillionaire to speak to graduates about their future endeavors.


Many of the graduates Zaslav is set to address aspire to enter the film industry, where “workers who are making these shows happen don’t get to share in the success,” of CEOs and executives like him, Torres Medina said.

Boston University spokesperson Colin Riley referred all requests for comment to an article on the university’s website announcing Zaslav as the commencement speaker.

“The reading of Zaslav’s name received tepid applause from students in the ballroom,” the article stated, acknowledging the writers strike and outbreak of student frustration on social media.

Xiaoyun Hu, a senior at BU graduating in two weeks with a combined degree in film and television and economics, worried that the university’s controversial decision could negatively affect students’ abilities to connect with alumni in her field.

“Having alumni working in the same industry as you is really really important,” Hu said. “This connection is valuable, and now BU is destroying the value of this connection.”

Speculation about how the student body will respond on commencement day is still circulating, according to Hu and Mullaney. Hu heard talk of students planning to walk out of the ceremony once Zaslav starts to speak. Mullaney recalled plans of booing the CEO as he steps onstage and suggested finding an alternative speaker, such as Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who is set to receive an honorary degree at commencement.


“I don’t see why it has to be him,” Torres Medina said. “I don’t have any control over that, but I don’t think it’s the right message to send to graduates at this moment.”

Sonel Cutler can be reached at Follow her @cutler_sonel.