Margot Robbie 2-1689176022362
No more Margot Robbie draped in pink dresses and flashing a million-watt smile at Barbie screenings as actors join historic strike Image Credit: Reuters

Hollywood is facing its largest labor action since 1960 as actors began a strike Thursday, joining the tens of thousands of entertainment writers who have been on the picket line since June.

SAG-AFTRA - Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists - are joining the Writers Guild of America (WGA) in striking for fair compensation, making it a "double strike", which hasn't happened since 1960. The WGA struck work on May 2.

So despite big releases being lined up, actors will refrain from public events, promotions, panels and all movie events. No more Margot Robbie draped in pink dresses and flashing a million-watt smile at Barbie screenings. No more Robert Downey Jr. mugging for the camera on Instagram with Oppenheimer co-stars Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt and Matt Damon.

Also read

Stars leave before premiere

The premiere of Christopher Nolan’s film “Oppenheimer” in London was moved up an hour so that the cast could walk the red carpet before the SAG board’s announcement. Stars including Cillian Murphy , Emily Blunt and Matt Damon left the event once the strike was announced.

(LtoR) Norwegian actor Trond Fausa Aurvaag, US actors Matt Damon and Robert Downey Jr., Irish actor Cillian Murphy, US-British actress Emily Blunt, US-British film direcotor Christopher Nolan and Australian actor Jason Clarke  pose upon their arrival for the
Image Credit: AFP

The strike rules also prevent actors from making personal appearances or promoting their work on podcasts or at premieres. And they are barred from do any production work including auditions, readings, rehearsals or voiceovers along with actual shooting.

While international shoots technically can continue, the stoppage among US-based writers and performers is likely to have a drag on those too.

What is happening?

The Screen Actors Guild represents 160,000 performers who will be joining a separate strike by writers. The unions haven't reached a new labor agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, which represents studios including Netflix Inc. and Walt Disney Co.

At their press conference, SAG officials suggested the sides remain far apart, with compensation from streaming a key issue as online video entertainment takes predominance over broadcast and cable TV.

Striking WGA (Writers Guild of America) workers picket outside Paramount Studios on July 12, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. Members of SAG-AFTRA, which represents actors and other media professionals, may go on strike by 11:59 p.m. today which could shut down Hollywood productions completely with the writers in the third month of their strike against Hollywood studios.
Image Credit: AFP

Regarding artificial intelligence, the union said the studios offered to pay background actors for just one day's work, and that their likenesses could then be replicated again and again in a film using AI.

In a statement after the strike announcement, the studio alliance said the union "has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry."

The studios say they offered double-digit percentage increases in salaries and higher pension and health benefits, as well as a boost in residuals - the money actors and others receive when shows and movies are rerun. They also offered protections against the use of actors' digital likenesses - addressing fears about artificial intelligence.

Big names join fight

When the initial deadline approached in late June, more than 1,000 members of the union, including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Bob Odenkirk, added their names to a letter signaling to leaders their willingness to strike.

While famous names predominate, the strike also includes tens of thousands of little-known actors who scramble for small parts at sometimes meager pay. The union says modest-but-essential income streams including long-term residuals for shows they appear in have dried up.

Jamie Lee Curtis took to Instagram and championed the strike by posting a photo of the comedy and tragedy masks, 'Variety' adds. "It looks like it's time to take down the MASKS. And pick up the SIGNS," she wrote in the caption.

TAB 190924 Meryl Streep-1569307618543
When the initial deadline approached, more than 1,000 members of the union, including Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Bob Odenkirk signalled their readiness to strike

'Better Call Saul' actor Bob Odenkirk tweeted with a quote from SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher: "Holy Cow. Go Fran Go! This was a powerful statement. I stand with Fran and everyone in SAG and WGA in this extended moment ... onwards."

Odenkirk's response followed Drescher's "How they plead poverty that they are losing money left and right when they give $100 millions to their CEOs." She continued, "If we don't stand tall right now, we are all going to be in jeopardy of being replaced by machines."

Cynthia Nixon, 'Sex and the City' and 'And Just Like That' actress, also sent out messages of solidarity, 'Variety' notes. She wrote: "The @sagaftra strike has at last arrived. I am proud to be standing tall with the @WGAWest and @WGAEast as actors and writers together demand a fair share of the record-breaking profits the studios have been reaping from our labor for far too long. We will win this!"

In solidarity with the union, Emmy nominee and SAG-AFTRA member Kumail Nanjiani tweeted a photo of the official SAG-AFTRA logo accompanied by the copy 'ON STRIKE!'

Comedian and 'Bros' actor Guy Branum also wrote about how he will now be double striking, tweeting, "Now that I am also striking as an actor, all my picketing movements will have purpose and my strike character will have a secret."

Fight for better pay

The great Hollywood walkout is part of a larger battle that has seen workers fighting for better pay and benefits from businesses as far-flung as Starbucks Corp., Inc. and Delta Air Lines Inc. A union representing about 340,000 United Parcel Service Inc. workers is threatening a strike on August 1 if the company doesn't meet wage-increase demands in talks to renew a five-year labour contract.

The entertainment industry is struggling to cope with two related problems: declining audiences for traditional TV networks and staggering losses from a new generation of streaming services like Disney+ and Warner Bros. Discovery Inc.'s Max.

'Damage on industry'

Disney Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger on Thursday said the strike will have a "very, very damaging effect on the whole industry."

"This is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption," Iger said in a CNBC interview.

Every major entertainment company has fired staff in the last 18 months, and many of them have pulled programming from their streaming services to cut costs.

In a way, the dual strikes mark a sad finale to a boom in film and TV that started when Netflix jumped into original production with House of Cards in 2013 and spurred a decade of record production.

Demands of actors, writers

Both the actors and writers say they've been shortchanged by the transition to streaming and want to be paid a share of companies' earnings from shows. They're also seeking protection against the use of artificial intelligence, which they see as a threat to their jobs.

The last time writers and actors walked out together was in 1960, when SAG was led by Ronald Reagan. Both were fighting for revenue from movies that aired on TV, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The last strike by writers, a 100-day walkout that began in 2007, cost the California economy an estimated $2.1 billion in lost output. The guild now projects the cost at $30 million a day, based on its members alone.

The stoppage has hit companies that work with the film and TV industry, including owners of studio space like Hudson Pacific Properties Inc. Talent agencies have imposed layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts.