In a world full of good ideas, trotting out a man currently seen as one of the biggest villains in the ongoing Hollywood writers’ strike before a sea of Gen Z college graduates is decidedly not one of them.
But that didn’t stop the brain trust over at Boston University from doing just that on Sunday, with the school bringing Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav on stage to accept an honorary degree and give a commencement speech to the Class of 2023.
Loud boos, jeers, and angry chants quickly followed.
Zaslav loudly booed at BU commencement. Although I’m incapable of being happy, this comes close. pic.twitter.com/qtIaMJJaFb
— Shawn Wines WGA Captain (@shawnwines) May 21, 2023
The heckling began as Boston University President Robert A. Brown introduced Zaslav, who was pictured on a commencement live feed looking nonplussed behind a pair of dark sunglasses. As the CEO took the podium, cries of “Pay your writers!” and “Shut up, Zaslav!” could be heard. At one point, a man screamed, “Fuck you, you piece of shit!”
Zaslav getting hit with a Pay Your Writers chant in Boston. This is so good. pic.twitter.com/00pL4ahAqZ
— Mike Scollins (@mikescollins) May 21, 2023
The 63-year-old executive, a B.U. School of Law alum who now nets a reported $35 million salary, struggled to get through his speech over the course of the next 20 minutes. “You wanna be successful, you’re gonna have to figure out how to get along with everyone, and that includes difficult people. Some people—” he paused. “Some people will be looking for a fight.”
The crowd erupted in boos, and Zaslav flashed a thumbs-up and smiled.
Beyond the chants and booing, Zaslav is a terrible speaker. His speech is full of cliches and empty platitudes delivered without an ounce of genuine feeling. He’s the epitome of a bean-counting corporate stooge. pic.twitter.com/a28Ta0hP6u
— Tyler Ruggeri (@t_ruggeri) May 21, 2023
“... Focus on good people’s qualities,” he continued. “In my career, I’ve seen so many talented people lose opportunities or jobs because they couldn’t get along with others. You can’t choose the people you work with. Figure out what you like about a person—there’s always something—and do whatever it takes to navigate their challenges. We all have them.”
— April Wolfe (@AWolfeful) May 21, 2023
According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Boston University students worked with the Los Angeles chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) to prepare chants for the speech and a picket organized outside the event, some of which were inspired by the school’s hockey chants.
WGA East, Boston DSA, and a number of non-Hollywood unions from the local area also joined the picket. Roughly 350 people participated in the action, according to one person working at its check-in station. Prior to Zaslav’s speech, an airplane circled the ceremony overhead, dragging a banner that read “David Zaslav—Pay Your Writers” behind it.
David Zaslav, Head Of Warner Brothers / Discovery Is Getting An Honorary Degree At Boston University - A plane towed this message circling the ceremony
“David Zaslav - Pay Your Writers”#WGA #WGAStrike #Writers #Screenwriters #screenplay pic.twitter.com/WF5p3rVgYV
— K. B. (@kbsez) May 21, 2023
The Writers Guild of America announced the picket shortly after Boston University confirmed Zaslav’s attendance on May 11, at which point the union had already been on strike for nine days.
Expressing its “deep disappointment” with the decision at the time, the WGA said in a statement, “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.”
— Calvin Starnes (@CalvinStarnesOG) May 21, 2023
In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter hours later on Sunday, Zaslav said, “I am grateful to my alma mater, Boston University, for inviting me to be part of today’s commencement and for giving me an honorary degree. As I have often said, I am immensely supportive of writers and hope the strike is resolved soon and in a way that they feel recognizes their value.”