SAG-AFTRA and WGA Take to the Streets to Strike
Last week, on July 14th, the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (or SAG-AFTRA) announced that they were joining the Writers’ Guild of America (or WGA) in a strike. This is the second time both unions have collaborated in a strike, the first taking place in 1960. The WGA last went on strike in 2007, which set a precedent in jurisdiction over new media.Several film and television productions have been halted in support of the strike. However, some independent productions, such as the upcoming A24-produced film Death of a Unicorn, have reached agreements with SAG-AFTRA to continue filming during the strike.
The contract negotiations discuss a lack of residuals from streaming, the use of artificial intelligence to capture and possess the likenesses of actors, and unfair treatment of writers in writers’ rooms. Fran Drescher, star of the television show The Nanny and SAG-AFTRA president, explained how Hollywood’s business model had been uprooted by new technology. “You cannot change the business model as much as it has changed and not expect the contract to change too. We’re not going to keep doing incremental changes on a contract that no longer honors what is happening right now with this business model that was foisted upon us,” she said.
The business model does little to support actors and writers. According to CNN Business, only 12.7% of SAG-AFTRA members meet the minimum yearly income threshold to qualify for health insurance, which is $26,470. Furthermore, streaming residuals from streaming platforms like Netflix, Hulu, and Disney+ barely accumulate to a few cents. Actors like Luke Cook, who starred in Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and Dollface, cannot make a living on acting. “I shouldn’t have two side jobs in order to survive,” Cook said. Meanwhile, Netflix’s co-CEOs Ted Sarandos and Greg Peters were paid millions of dollars in 2022. Ted Sarandos’ salary saw a 31.5% increase to $50.3 million, while Greg Peters made $28.1 million in 2022 and is expected to make $34.65 million this year.
The strike is currently fighting against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (or AMPTO), who defend the production studios and upheld the offer they made to SAG concerning pay rises and protecting AI likenesses of actors’ faces and bodies. Studio executives seem to show little remorse for the financial danger that actors and writers are putting themselves in to combat injustice in the workplace. “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,” one executive said.
What does the future look like for Hollywood? The first dual strike in 1960 lasted for a short six weeks, but was able to achieve healthcare, pensions, and a residual system for television re-runs for union members. Experts say that this strike could last months into the fall, and that it all depends on public recognition and unanimous support.