Hollywood is facing a potential industry shutdown as the largest union of film and TV actors has voted to authorize a strike if they don’t reach a deal with the studios and streamers by the end of this month. SAG-AFTRA, which represents more than 160,000 performers, announced on Monday night that 98 percent of its members voted in favor of a strike authorization, with a turnout of 48 percent.
The union’s current contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which bargains on behalf of the major entertainment companies, expires on June 30, and negotiations are set to begin on June 7.
The actors’ vote comes amid a strike by the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which has been on the picket lines since May 2 over similar issues. The writers are demanding higher wages, increased residual payments for their work on streaming platforms, and protections against the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to replace or manipulate their work. The directors, meanwhile, have reached a tentative deal with the AMPTP on Sunday, which includes a “groundbreaking agreement” on AI issues.
The actors have expressed their solidarity with the writers and have joined them on the picket lines. They have also voiced their own concerns about the changing landscape of the entertainment industry, which has been disrupted by the rise of streaming services and new technologies. According to a statement from SAG-AFTRA, “We need a contract that will increase contributions to our benefit plans and protect members from erosion of income due to inflation and reduced residuals, unregulated use of generative AI, and demanding self-taped auditions.”
Generative AI is a type of technology that can create realistic images, sounds, and texts based on data and algorithms. It can be used to create deepfakes, which are manipulated videos or audio that make people appear to say or do things they never did. It can also be used to generate new content without human input or consent. SAG-AFTRA is worried that this technology could be used to exploit actors’ likenesses and performances without paying them or giving them credit.
SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher said in a statement that the strike authorization vote was an “achievement” that showed the union’s strength and unity. “Together we lock elbows and in unity we build a new contract that honors our contributions in this remarkable industry, reflects the new digital and streaming business model and brings ALL our concerns for protections and benefits into the now! Bravo SAG-AFTRA, we are in it to win it,” she said.
The AMPTP said in its own statement that “we are approaching these negotiations with the goal of achieving a new agreement that is beneficial to SAG-AFTRA members and the industry overall.” The studios have argued that they are facing increased competition and uncertainty in the market, especially after the pandemic disrupted production and distribution.
The strike authorization does not mean that a strike will happen, but it gives the union more leverage in the talks. SAG-AFTRA chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said that the union was not looking to strike, but was prepared to do so if necessary. “We’re here to make a deal. But we’re also not going to accept anything less than what our members deserve. If a strike is necessary to achieve that, we’re prepared,” he said.
The last time SAG-AFTRA went on strike was in 2000, over commercial pay. The strike lasted nearly six months. The last time Hollywood faced an industrywide shutdown was in 2007-2008, when the WGA went on strike for 100 days over digital rights. The current WGA strike has already affected dozens of shows and movies, and a possible actors’ strike could further cripple the entertainment industry.
– SAG-AFTRA Members Authorize Strike: Nearly 98 Percent Vote for Work Stoppage, The Hollywood Reporter, June 6, 2023
– Film and TV actors set up strike at end of June, potentially crippling entertainment industry, CBS News, June 6, 2023
– Are Hollywood actors going on strike? This is what we know as SAG-AFTRA members vote for action, MSN, June 6, 2023
– SAG-AFTRA votes to authorize strike, potentially joining WGA on picket lines, Vulture, June 6, 2023