‘Dehumanization Is Taking Place With AI’: Italian Dubbers Go on Strike to Demand ‘Human’ Working Conditions Amid Digital Disruption

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Italy’s 2,500 dubbing industry workers are on a protracted strike demanding higher wages, less frenzied work conditions, and protection against digital dubbing devices, which they claim threaten their jobs.

The country’s unions representing Italian voice actors and dubbing directors have been on the war path since Feb. 21. On Tuesday they announced the strike will continue for at least another week.

The unions are demanding that standard contract wages that have remained unvaried for the past 15 years be raised. But they are also clamoring for the right to be able to work at a slower pace, claiming that “current production rhythms are not conducive to [good] quality of work and of life,” according to a statement issued by Italian dubbers’ union ANAD.

“Today it is unthinkable to continue working under obsolete contractual conditions, with regulations that do not take into account how much the audiovisual entertainment market has changed in the past ten years,” said ANAD president Daniele Giuliani in a statement. He also went on to point out that there is currently no “safeguard as regards to the rights to our voices, which puts the entire sector at risk on a daily basis, fueling the risks of an improper use of artificial intelligence.”

“The financial aspect is only one part of the problem,” Rodolfo Bianchi, head of Italy’s dubbing directors’ org. ADID, told Variety. “We are also concerned about upgrading the artistic side of our profession since we are currently working at an insane rhythm where it’s impossible to maintain our quality standards,” he said.

Bianchi, a voice actor, is the regular Italian voice of international stars including Stellan Skarsgård. He most recently featured in the “Star Wars” series “Andor.” Bianchi said the time crunch prompted by more Hollywood movies going out day-and-date along with the increase in product that needs to be dubbed for the Italian market have been causing “an insane work rhythm where it’s impossible to maintain our quality standards that have been steadily deteriorating for a long time.”

Italy, where local audiences until recently rejected subtitles en masse, “once stood out around the world for the level of excellence of its dubbing quality,” said Bianchi who as a dubbing director recently oversaw the Italian version of Steven Spielberg’s “The Fabelmans.” “We want to work better, with more time at our disposal,” he noted.

Italian dubbers are also fighting to obtain a contractual safeguard against cutting-edge AI technology that could soon change how Hollywood localizes its movies and TV shows.

“We are forced to sign contracts in which we give away the rights to the use of our voice,” Bianchi pointed out. He underlined that in current agreements “this also involves the use of our voice for artificial intelligence purposes.” The fear is that, going forward, the voices of Italian actors that Italian audiences specifically identify with global stars such as Julia Roberts or Leonardo DiCaprio can be reproduced using digital technology that already allows for automating some aspects of dubbing.

“It’s a risk that we fear we are running,” Bianchi said, before going on to blast the “dehumanization that is taking place [in the dubbing world] with the use of artificial intelligence.”

So how will the dubbers strike impact the distribution of Hollywood movies, series and soaps in Italy?

After just a little over a week, it’s too early to gauge the strike’s disruptive effect. On Tuesday, after the action was extended, Italy’s motion picture association ANICA — which includes the U.S. studios and Netflix — issued a statement saying they are ready to engage in a constructive dialogue “to develop and improve initiatives and agreements that will be as efficient as possible in addressing the issues that have been raised.”

Stay tuned.

‘Dehumanization Is Taking Place With AI’: Italian Dubbers Go on Strike to Demand ‘Human’ Working Conditions Amid Digital Disruption

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