How You Can Support The Writer and Actor Strikes & Why You Should
This article was written by The Zillennial Zine’s summer editorial intern PJ Cunningham. Find him on Instagram at @peachycunningham. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“CUT! CUT! CUT!” is what organized labor said to Hollywood last week, as the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists unions (SAG-AFTRA), declared on Thursday, July 13 that they would be striking.
The move to strike, which was announced by SAG-AFTRA leader and beloved TV nanny Fran Drescher, is a big deal.
It is the latest and perhaps most pivotal event in a saga centered around contractual disputes between the American Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), a body which represents major screen studio and production companies with SAG-AFTRA and their sister union, the Writers Guild of America (WGA).
While the WGA, which represents U.S. screenwriters, began striking back in May, SAG-AFTRA’s announcement means that any new Hollywood production, such as movies and new streaming and cable TV shows, are on hold for the time being. Now, while this may sound catastrophic, I believe that the case for both unions’ strikes are strong and justified. Therefore, it is paramount that in this age of media consumption and rising production company profits, we consumers stand in solidarity with the striking artists, writers and actors. Here’s how we can.
If we are to understand how we can support the strikes, we must first understand why we should in the first place. The justification for the strike itself comes from the heart of the dispute between studios and actors and writers. Essentially, to make a very long story short, both writers and actors alike, from the biggest names in Hollywood to lower profile figures, are being financially exploited under current circumstances. Writers, who are generally paid off of residual revenue from advertising from TV commercials or movie previews for example, were making less than a quarter of their old salary-per-show on streamed shows, despite Hollywood executives making record profits in the last year, to the tune of nearly 400x what a writer would make. Keep in mind that while producers and executives bankroll production and allow for stories to be aired, the stories themselves are only profitable in the first place due to the unique talent, passion and creativity screenwriters bring. In an era where profits are up, their salaries should not go down. This alone gives the writer strike meaning and also validity, however, the reasoning behind the actors strike is even more compelling to everyday folks like you and me.
Much like their writer counterparts, actors, both recognizable and small-time, are not being compensated fairly in relation to the profits they produce. This again can be explained by the fact that actors were being paid using residuals, which are dependent upon advertising. Since the great switch to streaming, some major production companies such as Disney and Paramount were essentially paying actors next to nothing despite using their likeness in streamable shows that generate profit. Now, this is obviously different than the actual salaries and payments actors receive for being in shows when they are first hired, but it is still hard to justify actors getting paid less than $50 for the repeated use of their likeness and work in a show that could generate millions, such is the case with Sean Gunn in re-trending classic Gilmore Girls.
More alarming and upsetting though, are the potential exploitations posed by the use of AI by major production companies. SAG-AFTRA alleges that AMPTP contract proposals included clauses that would allow production companies to scan the likeness and voice of an actor for the cost of a day’s pay and then recreate them without having to pay a full fee or salary as they would have to with a full-time actor. Not only is this technology potentially scary, but it also could be incredibly damaging for smaller-name actors looking to break onto the scene or even just support their families from acting income alone.
While actors might not seem like the biggest underdogs in the world, we must remember that the majority of actors, including those represented by SAG-AFTRA, are not stars or millionaires, but rather everyday folks with dreams, hopes and, yes, wallets to fill and families to feed.
The top highest-paid Hollywood executives in the last 5 years includes:— Geek Vibes Nation (@GeekVibesNation) July 16, 2023
David Zaslav, Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.: $498,915,318
Ari Emanuel, Endeavor Group Holdings Inc.: $346,935,367
Reed Hastings, Netflix: $209,780,532
Bob Iger, Walt Disney Co.: $195,092,460
Ted Sarandos,… pic.twitter.com/XU3pXpyfka
When executives that make hundreds of millions despite a lack of acting or writing talent have the nerve to not concede fair wages or proper rights regarding AI and likeness, it is only logical that we stand with striking writers and actors.
Since I’m making the assumption that my readership base is not made up of labor organizers and union workers (feel free to let me hear otherwise if that sounds like you!), figuring out how to support a massive strike might sound foreign, difficult and daunting.
However, there are some simple solutions everyday folks can engage in that can benefit the movement.
Firstly and most easily is using social media tools available to all of us. While posting might seem like an easy cop-out for those of us inclined to help but too lazy to get off the couch, spreading awareness about the strike, why it happened and actor and writer strike meaning actually is centered around can do a ton of good. It not only allows for otherwise oblivious folks a chance to understand what’s going on, but also, why it is happening. Rather than being outside observers, social media driven awareness forces us into the fight, with a notion of why it matters too.
Sharing certain content made by the unions, such as a list of what acting jobs do and do not violate the current strike, can also help actors looking for a way to ensure financial stability have fulfilling work that doesn’t compromise their morals or cross the picket line. Examples of these lists include the tweet below.
⚠️Important #SAGAFTRAstrike information⚠️#sagaftramembers, here’s everything you need to know about the TV/Theatrical/Streaming Strike, including…— SAG-AFTRA (@sagaftra) July 14, 2023
👉What you CAN’T work
👉What you CAN work
👉Network TV Code
Get more information at https://t.co/EE6qPXDi3T. #SAGAFTRAstrong pic.twitter.com/I4LGr1oj7h
Furthermore, since both WGA and SAG-AFTRA have said that streaming shows and going to theaters do not count as crossing the picket line and urged against full out boycotts, we are still allowed to enjoy our favorite movies and television. That being said, at the very least, I urge all of us to realize what made these shows and movies we love so good in the first place. Hint hint, it wasn’t the executives.
If you are disgusted and strong-willed enough to boycott streaming and cinema completely, you are definitely stronger than me. However, there remain plenty of options for entertainment that does not directly benefit major studio profits. For starters, theatrical productions, such as broadway, are totally fair game for both viewers and actors to enjoy without fear of crossing the picket line. Additionally, truly indie films, such as student movies or very small-budget independently produced and directed movies are not included under the AMPTP umbrella, meaning that acting in them and viewing them will not hurt the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes. Quite the opposite in fact. Assuming truly independent producers and directors petition for and receive an ‘interim agreement’ from SAG-AFTRA, they can use any and all actors that are part of that respective union. Supporting truly independent cinema, whether it be a well-known indie filmmaker or just a friend with a cam quarter getting a film studies degree, can make a world of difference for both actors and movie lovers alike.
If one wants their fix for their favorite films without benefitting AMPTP companies like Disney or Paramount, one can always see if their parents have DVDs and DVR recordings (what are both of those?!) of classic hit shows and films. If they do, chances are you can enjoy these masterpieces the old-fashioned way, while ensuring corporate greed does not win the day.
Lastly, if one possesses determination, free-time and passion, they should check out the SAG-AFTRA and WGA sites for in-person picket line protest locations. Though this may not be the cup of tea for most, as someone who has protested alongside organized labor before, I can say that it is incredibly fulfilling and also critically important.
No matter what you do, I hope you understand the gravity of this situation and aim to help in any way you can.
I hope it is clear that the actor and writer’s strike meaning extends well beyond the Hollywood sign. This is the first line of defense for all of us. If actors and screenwriters aren’t safe from AI exploitation and unfair payment practices, who is? It is imperative we stand in solidarity with these striking stars, because what happens in this space could prove to be the first scene in a saga with major implications for us all.
I’ll leave you with this speech, from ‘The Nanny’ herself.
We hope this articles helps you figure out how to support the writers guild strike. Let us know if you have other ideas in the comments below!