Despite their considerable presence in Hollywood, extras and working actors have received scant attention within film and media studies as significant contributors to the history of the industry. Looking not to the stars but to these supporting players in film, television, and, recently, streaming programming, Below the Stars highlights such actors as precarious laborers whose work as freelancers has critically shaped the entertainment industry throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. By addressing ordinary actors as a labor force, Kate Fortmueller proposes a media industry history that positions underrepresented and quotidian experiences as the structural elements of the culture and business of Hollywood.
Resisting a top-down assessment, Fortmueller explores the wrangling of labor unions and guilds that advocated for collective action for everyday actors and helped shape professional norms. She pulls from archival research, in-person interviews, and firsthand observation to examine a history that cuts across industry boundaries and situates actors as a labor group at the center of industrial and technological upheavals, with lasting implications for race, gender, and labor relations in Hollywood.