Starting today, Hollywood’s actors are on strike.
This comes after negotiations between the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) failed to reach a fair deal that addresses the key issues raised by the faces and voices of the entertainment world.
Aside from actors, the SAG-AFTRA also represents announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers and DJs, news writers and editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists and singers, stunt performers, and voice-over artists. Its membership is currently estimated at 160,000. On the other hand, the AMPTP represents major studios and streamers, including Amazon, Disney, Netflix, Paramount, Sony, Apple, and Warner Bros.
This is the first time actors have been on strike since 1980. With Hollywood’s writers (represented by the Writers Guild of America) also on strike since May, this marks the first time that the WGA and SAG-AFTRA unions are simultaneously on strike in the last 60 years. Picketing will begin on Friday morning.
Here’s what the SAG-AFTRA strike means and what exactly is at stake.
No Shoots, No Press, No Social Media
At an earlier meeting with Hollywood publicists to discuss the strike (then just a very likely possibility), SAG-AFTRA shared strike rules that every one of its members will follow in the days and months to come — until, of course, an acceptable agreement is made with the AMPTP.
Firstly, SAG-AFTRA members are heading to the picket lines and stepping away from all film and television projects.
With many productions — among them Netflix’s Stranger Things, ABC’s Abbott Elementary, and Disney+’s Andor — already shut down by the ongoing WGA strike, the SAG-AFTRA strike will ground most others to a halt. The combined strikes effectively shut down the entire industry, with insiders estimating that the impact would stretch at least until the end of the year.
Actors and performers will also refuse to take part in promotional work for finished movies and television shows, and that includes film premieres, press junkets, and even fan events like the San Diego Comic-Con slated for next week. Though members are allowed to attend the event itself, they are not allowed to talk about any film or TV projects, completed or upcoming, and are strongly encouraged not to attend at all.
SAG-AFTRA members will also not attend the Emmys, should the original schedule of September 18th push through and the strike is still on. The Television Academy — which, ironically, announced the Emmy nominees hours before the strike was called — is already in talks about moving the awards date to either November or January.
Major studios have already held press junkets ahead of the strike deadline for films coming out in the next few weeks, including Warner Bros.’ highly-anticipated Barbie and Universal Pictures’ Oppenheimer. SAG-AFTRA has asked that press junkets produced before the strike but aired later on must include a disclaimer.
Lastly, SAG-AFTRA members are not allowed to post about any of their TV or film projects on social media, as doing so is considered publicity.
Some independent productions may be given an exception to the strike rules, provided that they are not tied to a studio or streamer that is a member of the AMPTP.
Compensation and Artificial Intelligence
Compensation and artificial intelligence (AI) are two of the biggest issues surrounding the failure of the negotiations between the AMPTP and SAG-AFTRA.
The call for fair pay was highlighted in an open letter from actors urging their union to take a hard stance in the negotiations.
Penned last June, it was signed by hundreds of actors — including the likes of Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence, Mark Ruffalo, Quinta Brunson, Kevin Bacon, Rami Malek, and Jamie Lee Curtis — who argued that with the rise of both inflation and streaming, what was considered a good deal a few years ago is simply no longer enough.
Calling for higher minimum pay and new media residuals, the letter read, “We feel that our wages, our craft, our creative freedom, and the power of our union have all been undermined in the last decade. We need to reverse those trajectories.”
In addition to wages, actors earn additional income from “residuals,” which are paid every time a TV or movie they star in is re-aired. However, streaming platforms like Netflix do not disclose viewing figures — choosing instead to pay actors the same flat rate regardless of viewership.
Worries over AI, meanwhile, involve their potential use in replacing human performers. In a recent Deadline interview, actress and filmmaker Natasha Lyonne expressed, “We just want to make stuff and we just want to make it fairly… I just don’t think we want to give away our rights and free will of how to use it over to people that are just going to be in the interest of doing things faster and cheaper.”
SAG-AFTRA members are calling for safeguards around the use of AI in TV and film production, as well as assurances that their images and likeness will not be used without permission to train the technology. If actors’ performances will be used to train AI, SAG-AFTRA argues that they must be well compensated for it.
“The Eyes of History Are on All of Us”
The issues of compensation and AI were also at the heart of another set of failed negotiations last April, this time between the AMPTP and the WGA, whose 11,500 members have been on strike for two months and counting. Already, the WGA strike has caused massive delays to TV’s fall season, with chief negotiator Ellen Stutzman saying that it will last “as long as it takes to make a fair deal.”
With SAG-AFTRA following the WGA’s footsteps, Hollywood’s simultaneous strikes — the first that studios are facing in 63 years — over these two issues are marking a key point in history.
Hollywood is unique not just in its role as a producer of culture and entertainment. It’s also an industry with strong unions, and the strikes reveal its potential to set the tone for two things: how workers might stand united against corporations; and how disruptive technology like AI can and should be used in relation to human labor.
In the letter mentioned above, actors wrote, “This is not a moment to meet in the middle, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the eyes of history are on all of us… We want you to know that we would rather go on strike than compromise on these fundamental points.”