Two former unpaid interns for the Darren Aronofsky film Black Swan are suing Fox Searchlight because they claim they were used unfairly on set. The New York Times reports the lawsuit, which was filed in Manhattan federal court, targets the practice of using unpaid interns on movie sets in general. “In misclassifying many of its workers as unpaid interns, Fox Searchlight has denied them the benefits that the law affords to employees,” the lawsuit says. “No shit,” replied anyone who has ever had an unpaid internship.
The two plaintiffs, Alex Footman, 24, and Eric Glatt, 42, are seeking back pay and an “injunction barring Fox Searchlight from improperly using unpaid interns.” The suit is also seeking class-action status, which would make it a groundbreaking case that will affect hundreds of other Fox Searchlight interns. According to the suit, the plaintiffs say their experience didn’t offer them the educational experience required of unpaid internships in order to make them legal. Footman said his duties included “preparing coffee for the production office, ensuring that the coffee pot was full, taking and distributing lunch orders for the production staff, taking out the trash and cleaning the office.” Add, “Make copies of invoices” and he’d have the entire unpaid intern repertoire.
There are two very different but equally logical responses to this. One is to admit that the state of unpaid internships has gotten out of control and that employers too readily rely on them in lieu of creating actual jobs. The other is to tell these guys to buck up; they should be happy they were interning on the set of a surreal, Oscar-winning ballet thriller. Most interns have to make coffee for accounting firms.
Footman told the Times, “I hope this case will hold the industry to a higher standard and will get rid of this practice.” Even if it doesn’t, at least their foot will be in the door.