Hello, hi there, today the stage has been set for a historic double strike in Hollywood — the kind of which has not been seen in 63 years. The 160,000 members of The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) will join the Writers Guild of America (WGA) in a strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). It’s a move that will all but force studios to go black.
Let’s talk about how we got there.
SAG-AFTRA announced overnight that its negotiating committee has voted unanimously to recommend that its 160,000 members strike after weeks of negotiations with the AMPTP (who represents Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Warner Bros Discovery, along with all other major production companies) could not come to terms before yesterday’s midnight deadline. After a formal vote this morning Pacific Time regarding the strike, it was announced at a news conference that the strike’s officially on.
This will be the first time that SAG-AFTRA members have stopped work on movie and television productions since 1980.
“The studios and streamers have implemented massive unilateral changes in our industry’s business model, while at the same time insisting on keeping our contracts frozen in amber,” SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said in a statement. “Their refusal to meaningfully engage with our key proposals and the fundamental disrespect shown to our members is what has brought us to this point. The studios and streamers have underestimated our members’ resolve, as they are about to fully discover.”
SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher echoed Cabtree-Ireland’s statements, adding that while the guild “negotiated in good faith,” they have not been met in return. “AMPTP’s responses to the union’s most important proposals have been insulting and disrespectful of our massive contributions to this industry.”
Taken in broad scale, the actors’ demands largely overlap with their colleagues in the Writers Guild, who have already been on strike for months. Both groups want restrictions and protections as it relates AI technology, which can simulate a performer’s likeness or writer’s style and is setting a stage for unchartered waters in the industry that could be harmful to creatives. Both groups also want a revamped payment structure and business model for their work on streaming networks, which both unions have widely described as currently unfair if not unethical.
That said, even with their overlapping concerns, a double strike with writers is still nearly unprecedented. According to research done by The Washington Post, though actors and writers have simultaneously walked off sets several times — including during the 2007 writers strike and also a six-month performers strike in 2000 (then one of the longest entertainment strikes in history) – they have only simultaneously picketed once before, in 1960. Until now.
Production on most television shows and movies have already been halted by the WGA strike that began in May, a joint walkout by the actors is expected by all industry experts to essentially completely shut down what’s left of filming.
That kind of shut down impacts thousands more workers who are not just in the unions, and as such it has not to be taken lightly. SAG-AFTRA worked with the studios for weeks to avoid a second strike, first extending their original deadline of June 30th into this month and making a last minute request from the U.S. Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service for help, who dispatched a senior mediator for the final round of talks on Wednesday.
“This is the Union’s choice, not ours,wp_postssaid the AMPTP in a statement. “In doing so, it has dismissed our offer of historic pay and residual increases, substantially higher caps on pension and health contributions, audition protections, shortened series option periods, a groundbreaking AI proposal that protects actors’ digital likenesses, and more…. Rather than continuing to negotiate, SAG-AFTRA has put us on a course that will deepen the financial hardship for thousands who depend on the industry for their livelihoods.”
Though in reading that statement, it is worth noting — as the Writes Guild has many times — that the demands put forth by these unions represent a fraction of a percentage of studios’ annual revenue. IndieWire looked at the writers’ demands specifically and found that “as a percentage of total revenue, that added cost is a fraction of a percent. In Netflix’s case, it’s .214 percent (2022 revenue: $31.6 billion) and at Disney it’s .091 percent (2022 revenue: $82.7 billion).”
Conversely, just this week a studio executive told Deadline that as it related to the writers strike, “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.wp_postsA different insider in the same article called this breathtaking approach “a cruel but necessary evil.wp_posts(A spokesperson the AMPTP told Deadline, “these anonymous people are not speaking on behalf of the AMPTP or member companies.”)
To give a concrete example of the stakes here — the Screen Actors Guild, in part, is seeking increased base compensation for performers, which has declined as streaming-first studios (such as Netflix, Amazon) have taken advantage of previous contracts to pivot away from paying out residuals to talent.
Residuals are what actors — though writers are also striking over this issue as well — are paid when you or I watch reruns of their work. Just this week, a piece in the New Yorker honoring the 10-year anniversary of Orange Is the New Black, a show largely credited for ushering Netflix into its heyday as a television studio, noted that cast members of its largely woman and queer ensemble were being paid cents (as in, less than a dollar) per episode in residuals.
Kimiko Glenn, best known to all of us as Poussey’s girlfriend Brook Soso on the series, noted on her TikTok in 2020 that per episode she was receiving pennies of income from residuals (we’re talking two cents, four cents per episode), with a grand total coming to $27.30 for her years of work. This May she reposted the video on her Instagram when the writers went on strike — with many of her OITNB commiserating similar stories in the comments.
Emma Myles, the queer actor who played Leanne on the show (you’ll remember Leanne as formerly Amish person who struggled with overcoming drug addictions), noted that the disparity comes directly from streaming, as opposed to cable or broadcast television. According to the New Yorker, “Myles still gets around six hundred dollars a year for a handful of guest spots on ‘Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,’ stretching back to 2004, but her residuals this year for ‘Orange’ [Autostraddle Note: a show for which she had a much larger role] have come to around twenty bucks.”
Streaming studios are notoriously reticent to share the numbers of exactly how many people watch their programing, but from the New Yorker’s reporting, Netflix executive Ted Sarandos once let it be known that more people watched OITNB at its peak than watched Game of Thrones. Yet, the cast and writers of that show are still not paid their due worth accordingly. And this is only one example.
I know that in covering these reports a big question that comes up for us as queer audiences who love television and film is: How can we help? As of right now, there is still no call from union leadership to engage in an active boycott from consumers — so the best way to help is to vocally show support and spread an understanding of not just that there are strikes occurring, but why. We are in this for the long haul, together, and the only way out is going to be together as well.
This post has been updated as new information is made available.