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Hollywood actors go on strike, say it's time for studio execs to 'wake up'

SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, left, and SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, center, speak during a press conference announcing a strike on July, 13, 2023, in Los Angeles.
Chris Pizzello
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Invision/AP
SAG-AFTRA president Fran Drescher, left, and SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, center, speak during a press conference announcing a strike on July, 13, 2023, in Los Angeles.

Updated July 13, 2023 at 3:51 PM ET

SAG-AFTRA, the union representing Hollywood actors and performers, has voted to go on strike against major studios. Union president Fran Drescher said in a press conference that it was time for studio executives to "wake up and smell the coffee."

The union's national board made the decision after negotiations broke down with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. After a last ditch effort, monitored by a federal mediator, the two sides failed to come to an agreement.

"This is the Union's choice, not ours," the AMPTP said in a statement. "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."

The studios have also pointed out that the climate for streaming is not good; they've had a lot of layoffs recently. Just before the strike was called, Disney's CEO, Bob Iger, told CNBC that the union's expectations are not realistic.

SAG-AFTRA said in a statement that the streaming ecosystem has "eroded" the way actors get paid. The union accused the studios of refusing to acknowledge "enormous shifts in the industry and economy" and being unwilling to offer a fair deal.

Ninety-eight percent of SAG-AFTRA's members had already authorized a strike, and more recently, a long list of big-name actors, including Meryl Streep and the union's president, Fran Drescher, signed a letter to negotiators asking them not to cave into the studios.

"We're ready to go on strike. Ultimately, the goal is to get a great contract," said Jamila Webb, an actor from the Netflix series Family Reunion and Hulu's Reboot. She has been picketing in solidarity with striking writers, and prepping to be a strike captain for SAG-AFTRA. "I know sometimes Hollywood can feel like we're in our own bubble, but this is an opportunity to really get the message out to people who are, like, 'hey, are my shows coming on in the Fall?' No. and this is why."

The two sides reportedly had been at odds over several issues, including how much performers should get in residuals from the streaming platforms. Actors asked for higher compensation when the movie or series they're in are hits with viewers.

There was also disagreement over the use of artificial intelligence. Actors say they don't want to be replaced by computer-generated images; they want control over where and how their likenesses are used.

"It's a very, very small percentage of the 160,000 plus member union that actually can make a living off of the work that we do," said actor Danice Cabanela, known for her roles in Adventure Beast on Netflix and the upcoming Frasier reboot. She gathered with other Filipinx actors outside of Warner Brothers Studios yesterday. "There is so much money that is in streaming that, you know, these executives are keeping for themselves. And we all deserve to get paid more, treated better."

Tensions are certainly high. Mitch Narito, who played Donkey Doug on NBC's The Good Place was with Cabanela. He called the studio executives "out of touch with the working people."

Their issues are similar to what the Writers Guild of America has been fighting over in the strike they called in May. (Note: many NPR staffers are members of SAG-AFTRA, though broadcast journalists have a different contract than the Hollywood actors.)

Fran Drescher, left, president of SAG-AFTRA, and Meredith Stiehm, president of Writers Guild of America West, pose together during a rally outside Paramount Pictures studio, Monday, May 8, 2023, in Los Angeles.
Chris Pizzello / AP
/
AP
Fran Drescher, left, president of SAG-AFTRA, and Meredith Stiehm, president of Writers Guild of America West, pose together during a rally outside Paramount Pictures studio, Monday, May 8, 2023, in Los Angeles.

The writers strike has already halted most Hollywood productions, causing studios to delay or cancel upcoming movies and shows. Now the union performers are expected to completely stop work and to picket outside of studios such as Netflix, Amazon, Universal, Sony and Disney, in Los Angeles and New York.

According to the union's strike rules, they are not to promote shows or movies they're in. They're not to do interviews or be photographed on the red carpet or to participate in Emmy Award campaigns.

This will now be the first dual strike by Hollywood actors and writers since 1960, when Ronald Reagan, then a studio contract player, headed the Screen Actors Guild (it hadn't yet merged with AFTRA). In the end, both unions won healthcare benefits, pensions and movie residuals.

Ahead of this contract's expiration, SAG-AFTRA received support from other Hollywood unions. The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), Teamsters, Hollywood Basic Crafts, the Directors Guild of America and the Writers Guild of America (East and West) issued a joint statement:

"Hollywood must be a place where every worker, on-screen and off, is treated according to the value their skills and talents command. While the studios have collective worth of trillions of dollars, billions of viewers globally, and sky-high profits, this fight is not about actors against the studios, but rather about workers across all crafts and departments in the industry standing together to prevent mega-corporations from eroding the conditions we fought decades to achieve."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: July 13, 2023 at 11:00 PM CDT
An earlier version of this story misspelled the first name of Danice Cabanela as Denise.
As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.