‘Black Mirror’ Creator Charlie Brooker on Prescience of ‘Joan Is Awful’ Episode: ‘The Timing of It Was Surreal’

Right as generative AI was becoming the hot-button issue of last summer’s WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, Charlie Brooker, creator of beloved Netflix television anthology series “Black Mirror,” was ready to skewer the topic with his season 6 premiere, “Joan Is Awful.” Following a woman named Joan (Annie Murphy) as her life slowly unravels due to its constant depiction on an app called Streamberry, the episode delves into the slippery slope we’ve all signed up for by signing our data away to companies and computers with potentially dubious intentions. Released a month into the 2023 strikes, “Joan Is Awful” became a touchstone for artists raising alarms on the entertainment industry’s new investment into AI programs like ChatGPT and Midjourney.

“It was really odd,” Brooker said in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter. “So, I must have written it in June-July in 2022. When we shot it, it was September-October. It was just before ChatGPT launched. I think it was about a week later that ChatGPT came out and suddenly, everyone was talking about generative AI and how all creative jobs were going to be replaced, pushed out or automated.”

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He later added that the strikes really brought the conversation to the forefront. Brooker said, “When the ChatGPT conversation caught fire and when it became a huge issue because of the strikes, I was slightly wiping my brow with relief that we got the episode out before. The timing of it was surreal. Hopefully, it added to the conversation.”

According to Brooker, the nature of the story really hit home for the stars of the episode — even before it became an issue during the strikes — which is why they agreed to come aboard.

“Both Annie Murphy and Salma Hayek were already concerned about this sort of thing,” Brooker said. “It was already on their radar. Especially as a female actor, fake images pop up, and for a while, I was already thinking about deepfake stuff. So it was like the gods were kind of smiling on us, where it made sense within the story that she was a customer of it, but it also spoke to this wider, insane situation coming around the corner. If the episode played any part in helping to galvanize people or entertainingly lay some of the issues out, then that’s fantastic.”

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