Actors Join the Picket Line: An Update on the WGA/SAG-AFTRA Strike

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On May 1st, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) went on strike after being unable to reach an agreement with studios and streamers to ensure reasonable pay for writers. The guild has been protesting their unfair treatment since. Subsequently, for the first time since 1980, the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) have commandeered their solidarity and joined the strike.


The SAG-AFTRA represents over 160,000 professionals in the industry—ranging from actors in TV and film to recording artists, media personalities and other film personnel. On July 13 they joined the 11,000 members of the WGA in protest of unfair working conditions and remuneration. Their involvement in the strike comes as a result of failed negotiations with the AMPTP—the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers—which represents big studios and streaming companies, including Netflix, Disney and Warner Brothers.


Why Are They Striking?

The actors have joined the writers because of poor working conditions and salaries. While A-listers are safe, the strike isn’t really about them—it’s about cast and crew on productions that are receiving little pay for their work and close to nothing in residuals.


Residual payments are given to actors when their shows go to streaming services; most receive extremely meagre amounts disproportionate to their show’s success. Orange is the New Black’s Kimiko Glenn recently disclosed that her residual payments have amounted to a dismal $27 despite the show being foundational to Netflix’s success, and Gilmore Girls actor Sean Gunn revealed that he has received virtually no residuals from the show since it has been on the streamer.


SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher delivered an impassioned speech in support of the union members. Descher decreed, “We are the victims here. We are being victimized by a very greedy entity. . . The jig is up, AMPTP. We stand tall. We are labour and we stand tall. We demand respect and to be honoured for our contribution. You share the wealth because you cannot exist without us.” She’s been joined on the frontlines by actors like Mark Ruffalo, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Sudeikis, Paul Dano, Rosario Dawson and more.


What Do They Want?

Union members are reasonably asking for a handful of protections: fair pay and equitable residuals, stable working conditions, and things like protection against artificial usage of their likeness.


They also want to be able to work again. The strike means members currently cannot work on any productions, do promotional work for completed projects—interviews, screenings or in-person events—or any off-camera work, including things like voice acting, ADR or stunts. Crossing the picket line and disobeying the guidelines set out by SAG-AFTRA during the strike could result in their expulsion from the guild. The strike also means stylists, photographers, caterers, drivers, casting offices and hair and makeup artists are currently out of work.


These restrictions are in place to force the AMPTP’s hands, and the measures are more than necessary. 87% of SAG-AFTRA union members make less than $26,000 a year—that’s under $40,000 AUD. For context, the average Australian makes just under $70,000 a year. Union members can’t even qualify for health insurance in the U.S.


Netflix, Disney and Warner Brothers’ CEOs took in a collective $600 million AUD in the last financial year.


The AMPTP’s response has been unsurprisingly underwhelming. In an open letter, the studios alleged that the current strikes would only “deepen the financial hardship” union members are suffering, an iniquitous display of studio heads’ excessive greed and lack of sympathy.



The consequences of the studios’ avarice has already cast ripples across Hollywood. The strike came into effect in the middle of the premier for Christopher Nolan’s latest film Oppenheimer; cast voluntarily left the event early as soon as the strike began. Moreover, promotion for both Oppenheimer and Barbie, which released a week after the strike came into effect, had to halt immediately. That meant no more premieres, interviews or promotional work.


Several projects have been halted due to the strike. The film adaptation of Wicked was paused with only ten days left of production, as did Ryan Reynold’s upcoming Deadpool 3, and Disney+ Star Wars show Andor. New seasons of shows like Stranger Things and Euphoria could be delayed to as late as 2026. Episodes can’t be written and actors can’t perform, so work won’t be done.


The Emmy nominations were announced in mid-July; whilst the show is planned for September, actors can’t attend while the strike continues, and so organisers are considering delaying it to as late as next January. The upcoming Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)—one of the biggest annual celebrations of moviemaking—is preparing for a festival void of any writers, directors or actors attending their own premieres. The Venice Film has had its opening film in August, Challengers starring Zendaya, pulled from the festival—it’s been delayed until next April. Tentpoles scheduled for Christmastime like Dune 2 and the Aquaman sequel are rumoured to be delayed as well.


Drescher has stated that the strike will last only as long as the AMPTP allows it to. Negotiations could be made within the next few days or be stalled for months. The quality of shows we see next year might be underwhelming, and there could be a ration of theatrical releases for film in the coming years as a result.


If the studios continue to prioritize their own voracious wealth over the wellbeing of their workers, then it can be assured that the implications of this strike will be felt and feared for years to come.

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