The Writers Guild of America, which represents 11,500 screenwriters, has been on strike since the beginning of May. And on July 13, 2023, SAG-AFTRA—the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists representing approximately 160,000 film and television performers and media professionals—joined them, effectively shutting down Hollywood.
Actress and SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, best known for her lead role in “The Nanny,” announced the strike with a powerful speech calling out studio executives. The major Hollywood writer and performer unions have been in talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) over the way streaming services and Artificial Intelligence are impacting compensation for the creators on the ground, and clearly, it’s not been going well.
After explaining the gravity of the decision to strike, knowing “the eyes of the world and particularly the eyes of labor are upon us,” Drescher explained the reasoning behind the move.
“We are being victimized by a very greedy entity,” she said. “I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us. I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things. How they plead poverty, that they’re losing money left and right, when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting. Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history at this very moment.”
“You cannot keep being dwindled and marginalized and disrespected and dishonored,” she continued. “The entire business model has been changed by streaming, digital, AI. This is a moment of history that is a moment of truth. If we don’t stand tall right now, we are all going to be in trouble. We are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines and big business, who cares more about Wall Street than you and your family.”
Drescher made it clear that this strike was not just about actors, but about all workers, and that moneyed interests must acknowledge and adjust to a swiftly changing labor landscape to ensure that the people who do the work are compensated fairly.
“We are fortunate enough to be in a country right now that happens to be labor-friendly. And yet, we were facing opposition that was so labor-unfriendly, so tone-deaf to what we are saying. 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. What are we doing—moving around furniture on the Titanic? It’s crazy.”
People may think of SAG-AFTRA members and picture the high-profile actors making millions off of movies, but those well-paid performers are only a small fraction of the working actors in Hollywood. The average SAG-AFTRA member earns well below the national average salary and most working actors have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Some of that is simply the unpredictable nature of the business, but when studio income largely stays at the top and doesn’t trickle down to the people who create the shows and films that bring in the money, there’s room for negotiation. And in the whole new world of streaming services and AI technology, it appears those negotations will have to shift as dramatically as the entertainment industry landscape itself if they hope to get it moving again.