The Screen Actors Guild has announced today it will go on strike for the first time in more than 60 years, with 160,000 working actors and writers – including the cast of Oppenheimer – picketing the streets of Hollywood outside the Netflix, Paramount, Warner Bros and Disney headquarters demanding better pay.
As of midnight Los Angeles time (14th July 5 pm AEST), the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and its members across Hollywood will stage a major walkout over disputes with streaming giants and studios, demanding a fairer distribution of pay and improved working conditions for all its workers. The strike will be the biggest of its kind in more than 60 years and will result in many productions ceasing overnight.
It was reported earlier this week that among the staggering proposals suggested by the major studios was like a plot out of an episode of Black Mirror, to use AI technology to scan a background actor’s face and body – paying them for a day’s work – and use the actor’s likeness for an unlimited number of future projects without royalties or consent.
It’s reported that almost 60% of SAG members are professional background actors, with Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the union’s chief negotiator saying, “If you think that’s a groundbreaking proposal, I suggest you think again.” An agreement could not be reached, with the union hierarchy announcing plans to strike.
How did we get here?
The union – formally known as the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or SAG-AFTRA – claimed the strike “is an instrument of last resort,” in a final effort to force the studios to meet their demands, galvanising 160,000 of its members to picket the streets of California for fair and proper treatment, with many A-listers joining the fight.
Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt and the cast of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer left the London premiere last night to fly and join the protest in solidarity, with SAG-AFTRA member Matt Damon saying: “If our leadership is saying that the deal isn’t fair, then we gotta hold strong. It’s the difference between having healthcare and not for a lot of actors. We gotta do what’s right by them.”
Barbie star Margot Robbie has also thrown her weight behind the strike, saying “absolutely, I support all unions. I am part of SAG and I will support it.”
For SAG-AFTRA, this isn’t about millions but receiving fair compensation, with many of its members earning remarkably low residual checks for on-screen work in movies, tv shows and other projects while the studios and streaming giants announce exponential revenue earnings year-on-year. Last year alone Netlfix’s annual revenue amounted to around $31.6 billion USD (~$45.9 billion AUD).
Disparity at the top
Led by SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher, talks between the union and the studios broke down this week, with Drescher saying, “They plead poverty, that they’re losing money left and right when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history at this very moment.”
Disney CEO Bob Iger – who earns more than $25 million USD ($36.3 million AUD) annually – says the SAG-AFTRA members’ demands for fair compensation are not realistic and has since announced that Disney will be slowing down production of new Marvel and Star Wars projects.
Iger’s remarks echo those of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, who said: “This is the Union’s choice, not ours. In doing so, it has dismissed our offer of historic pay and residual increases.”
WATCH SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher deliver a passionate speech amid major strikes below.
What happens next?
The SAG-AFTRA strike means that union members will not be able to continue any promotion of current or future projects, including interviews, conventions, fans expos, premieres, award shows and podcast appearances, putting fresh doubt into major fan events such as Comic Con 2023 which begins this month in San Diego.
It is uncertain how long the strikes will go on, with SAG-AFTRA joining Writers Guild of America (WGA) members who have been protesting since May 2 and into its 71st day. Speaking with Deadline, studio executives claimed: “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.”
SAG-AFTRA and its members will cease to work as of midnight Los Angeles time (14 July 5pm AEST).