SAG-AFTRA Strike: All About The Protest And How It Affected Hollywood

The Screen Actors Guild — American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) announced a strike call on 13 July 2023. At the time, members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) were also protesting for fair pay.

On 8 November, after 118 days of protest, SAG-AFTRA reached a tentative agreement on a multi-year contract with movie studios, effectively bringing an end to the strike.

“We are thrilled & proud to tell you that today your TV/Theatrical Negotiating Committee voted unanimously to approve a tentative agreement with the AMPTP. As of 12:01 a.m. PT on Nov. 9, our strike is officially suspended & all picket locations are closed,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement on 8 November.

The combined WGA and SAG-AFTRA protest was the first since 1960 that had both major unions joining forces for the sake of their members. The last time SAG-AFTRA went on a strike on its own was in 1980.

With both SAG-AFTRA and WGA on strike, the American entertainment industry, or Hollywood, came to a near-complete halt.


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The WGA strike in brief

The WGA strike began on 2 May with several prominent members of the guild joining picket lines, calling for a reform in the system in which their Minimum Basic Agreement (MBA) was significantly affected due to streaming.

The WGA strike, which affected several movies and TV shows, ended on 27 September, after 148 days of strike, following a tentative deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

Among other things, the deal barred the use of AI in writing (with some exemptions granted to writers) and increased compensation.

WGA said on 9 October that the deal was ratified by 99 per cent of its members. The new agreement is set to expire on 1 May 2026.

All about the historic SAG-AFTRA strike

The demand of SAG-AFTRA

Image credit: SAG-AFTRA/@sagaftra/Twitter

Though the SAG-AFTRA strike call was not directly related to the WGA strike, both writers and actors shared similar issues. Compensation and artificial intelligence (AI) were among the common angles.

The actors were up against streaming giants over shrinking compensation because of the disconnection between royalty and the popularity of films or shows.

There was also the concern over AI being able to recreate the performances of stars. Thus, SAG-AFTRA wanted a guarantee that actors would not be replaced by AI or computer-generated faces and voices.

What happened at pre-strike negotiations?

In the last week of June, over 300 prominent Hollywood stars who are members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), were among over 1700 who signed a petition threatening to go on strike unless an agreement on a new contract between the organisation and major Hollywood studios, streamers and production companies was reached by 30 June.

Among the top names who said they would go on such a strike were Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence.

In a last-minute scramble, SAG-AFTRA, the combined labour unions representing over 160,000 performers, and AMPTP, which represents studios, agreed to extend their current contract through 12 July with an assurance of continued negotiations.

The negotiations failed, and the actor’s union said that they would start joining picket lines starting at midnight.

“We are the victims here. We are being victimised by a very greedy entity. I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us,” said Fran Drescher, president of the actors’ union, at a press conference.

“It is disgusting,” she said. “Shame on them.”

How did AMPTP react?

In a statement at the time when the protests began, AMPTP said that “a strike is certainly not the outcome we hoped for as studios cannot operate without the performers that bring our TV shows and films to life.”

“The union has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry,” it added.

AMPTP also said that it had agreed to a “groundbreaking proposal” concerning the use of AI under which actors’ consent will be sought before their digital likenesses are used.

This particular proposal was slammed by Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, SAG’s national executive director and chief negotiator.

“They propose that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get paid for one day’s pay, and their company should own that scan of their image, their likeness, and should be able to use it for the rest of eternity,” he said, adding, “If you think that’s a groundbreaking proposal, I suggest you think again.”

All about the new SAG-AFTRA deal

SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP held the first round of post-strike negotiations from 2 October to 11 October. The round was unsuccessful. The second round of negotiations began on 24 October. After a pause, meetings continued till the first week of November.

In its 8 November statement, SAG-AFTRA said that full details of the agreement will not be provided until the tentative agreement is reviewed by the SAG-AFTRA National Board. But it gave some outlines of what it may contain.

“In a contract valued at over one billion dollars, we have achieved a deal of extraordinary scope that includes ‘above-pattern’ minimum compensation increases, unprecedented provisions for consent and compensation that will protect members from the threat of AI, and for the first time establishes a streaming participation bonus,” the statement read.

SAG-AFTRA said that the pension and health caps of the members “have been substantially raised” and that the deal includes “outsize compensation increases for background performers, and critical contract provisions protecting diverse communities.”

“We have arrived at a contract that will enable SAG-AFTRA members from every category to build sustainable careers. Many thousands of performers now and into the future will benefit from this work,” SAG-AFTRA said.

The deal will be up for ratification in the coming days. If it is ratified, then the deal will go into effect. If not, the negotiations will restart.

How did the SAG-AFTRA strike affect Hollywood?

Strike call
Image credit: SAG-AFTRA/@sagaftra/Twitter

The SAG-AFTRA strike affected all movies or TV shows in production at the time when the strike began. No actor was allowed to promote their past projects or make appearances for anything from the red carpet to media interviews.

The effect of the strike call was seen almost immediately as the Oppenheimer cast — Cillian Murphy, Matt Damon and Emily Blunt — left the UK premiere of the film to fly back to the US to join the picket lines. There were some exemptions, though, such as the one granted to the cast of The Hunger Games: The Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes to promote their film.

Actors, largely, were barred from campaigning for the 2023 Emmy Awards, whose nominees were announced on 12 July, till the strike got over. The Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony was originally scheduled to be held on 18 September. The strike forced a postponement to 15 January.

According to a notice by the guild at the time when the strike began, members were barred from working on anything covered by the TV/Theatrical Contracts. These included acting, singing, dancing, stunts, puppeteering, voice acting, narrating, looping, stand-ins and even auditions.

Members could, however, work on commercials in TV radio and digital media, TV programmes covered by Network TV Code, dubbing, audiobooks, corporate and educational programmes, and other SAG-AFTRA-approved interim agreements.

Members could also work in non-dramatic programmes such as talk shows, variety shows, award shows, reality shows, game shows and special events.

Where did the SAG-AFTRA picket lines start?

Picketing began at 9 am (PST) in Los Angeles and noon (ET) in New York City on 14 July.

They were held simultaneously outside the LA headquarters of Netflix, Paramount, Warner Bros, Disney and Fox and the New York City offices of Warner Bros, Discovery, Netflix, HBO, Amazon, NBC Universal and Paramount.

As the months went by, the picketing lines grew stronger and longer, with several major celebrities joining the strike call.

(Hero and Featured images: SAG-AFTRA/@sagaftra/Twitter)

This story first appeared on Prestige Online Malaysia