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SAG-AFTRA Strike Looming: Oscar-Pedigreed Actors’ ‘Hardline’ Letter

Fran Drescher SAG-AFTRA presidentFran Drescher, SAG-AFTRA president and The Nanny (1993–1999) star.
  • Academy Award winners and nominees Meryl Streep, Marisa Tomei, Michelle Williams, and Jennifer Lawrence are among those who have signed a “hardline” letter urging the SAG-AFTRA leadership to rise to the occasion – “we are prepared to strike” – at this crucial juncture in the history of the American entertainment industry.

Meryl Streep, Michelle Williams, and Jennifer Lawrence among Hollywood stars demanding that the SAG-AFTRA leadership meet the moment during strike negotiations

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Last week, published a letter signed by more than 300 members of the Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) demanding that their union’s leadership refuse to meet the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) – representing the Hollywood conglomerates (they’re no longer just “studios”) – at the “halfway” mark. (See further below the full SAG-AFTRA letter and a partial list of signatories.)

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Amy Schumer, Paul Scheer, and Paul Downs were the chief organizers of the “prepared to strike” letter, which now has more than 2,000 signatories (the more recent ones were still being verified) out of SAG-AFTRA’s 160,000 members.

These – and any other new additions – are willing to join the 20,000 members of the Writers Guild of America (WGA), who have been on strike for two months.

Among the Hollywood stars who have signed the SAG-AFTRA letter are Academy Award winners/nominees Meryl Streep, Marisa Tomei, Michelle Williams, Laura Linney, Rami Malek, Lesley Ann Warren, Gabourey Sidibe, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Lawrence, Marlee Matlin, Jamie Lee Curtis, Glenn Close, Ariana DeBose, and Brendan Fraser, who affirm:

A strike brings incredible hardships to so many, and no one wants it. But we are prepared to strike if it comes to that. And we are concerned by the idea that SAG-AFTRA members may be ready to make sacrifices that leadership is not. We hope you’ve heard the message from us. This is an unprecedented inflection point in our industry, and what might be considered a good deal in any other years is simply not enough.

‘Inflection point’

But why such radicalism?

The answer is simple: We’re currently living in the year 2023, a time when streaming has revolutionized the American entertainment industry and artificial intelligence is poised to do the same. Fifteen years after the advent of (underpaying) streaming services, which have all but decimated DVD sales, and as AI learns (and steals) from human performers, “halfway” just isn’t enough.

In point of fact, look at the pivotal Screen Actors Guild strike of 1960, when most of the Hollywood studios were paralyzed by its first general stoppage. (Not coincidentally, the WGA was also on strike.)

For over a decade the studios had been selling/licensing their movies to television without paying residuals to actors, who had already been cheated of them – for movies made prior to August 1948 – following an agreement between the union, then under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, and the studios.

SAG’s 1960 “halfway” solution, again under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, turned out to be a major win for the studios and a catastrophic loss for veteran actors – those very same ones U.S.- and Canada-based Old Hollywood lovers enjoy watching on Turner Classic Movies.

2023 actors strike would have serious consequences

Ongoing SAG-AFTRA/AMPTP negotiations were supposed to end when the current contract expired at midnight on June 30. The two sides, however, have agreed to extend talks until July 12. (Update: SAG-AFTRA members are going on strike at midnight July 13.)

Bear in mind that an actors strike would halt the production and the promotion of Hollywood movies and television shows/series – already crippled by the WGA strike – not only in the United States but elsewhere on the planet. Threatened titles include Ridley Scott’s Gladiator 2, starring Paul Mescal; Christopher McQuarrie’s Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part Two, starring Tom Cruise; and Clint Eastwood’s Juror #2, starring Nicholas Hoult.

The SAG-AFTRA strike would potentially also derail the Emmy ceremony* (scheduled for Sept. 18), the nerdfest Comic-Con, and the premieres of major Hollywood releases like Greta Gerwig’s Barbie (box office article), starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, starring Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, and Matt Damon.

* That was the case during the SAG strike of 1980 (the key demand then was for home video residuals), when Powers Boothe was the only winner (for the TV movie Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones) present at the ceremony.

Meryl Streep ExtrapolationsMeryl Streep in Extrapolations: The three-time Oscar winner (Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979; Sophie’s Choice, 1982; The Iron Lady, 2011) is one of the Hollywood luminaries who have signed SAG-AFTRA members’ “prepared to strike” letter.

SAG-AFTRA letter

Almost 98 percent of voting members approve of the strike if talks fail.

Curiously, among the signatures recently added to the “prepared to strike” letter is that of SAG President Fran Drescher. Regarding the negotiations, she told ABC’s Good Morning America host Michael Strahan, “You know, in some areas, we are [making headway], and in some areas, we’re not. So we just have to see.”

Here’s the letter (via Deadline):

Dear SAG-AFTRA Leadership and Negotiating Committee,

Thank you for your hard work and your leadership navigating through this difficult negotiation in a truly unprecedented time. As SAG-AFTRA members, we’ve been impressed over the last few months by how our leadership outlined the unique stakes of the negotiations and the need for a realignment in our industry. We were glad to see SAG-AFTRA lead the way among the guilds in identifying AI as a threat to our livelihoods that must be addressed right now, a “game changer.” We felt as though you understood how wildly our pay and our residuals have been undermined, how long we’re being held between seasons. We’ve been filled with pride watching the union come together and deliver such an incredibly strong strike authorization vote.

But solidarity demands honesty, and we need to make clear our resolve. A strike brings incredible hardships to so many, and no one wants it. But we are prepared to strike if it comes to that. And we are concerned by the idea that SAG-AFTRA members may be ready to make sacrifices that leadership is not. We hope you’ve heard the message from us. This is an unprecedented inflection point in our industry, and what might be considered a good deal in any other years is simply not enough. We feel that our wages, our craft, our creative freedom, and the power of our union have all been undermined in the last decade. We need to reverse those trajectories. With inflation and continued growth in streaming, we need a seismic realignment of our minimum pay and new media residuals, our exclusivity carveouts, and other terms. We also think it’s absolutely vital that the deal restore dignity to the casting process by regulating how self-tapes are used. This is an enormous problem for working class actors. And especially as regards Artificial Intelligence, we do not believe that SAG-AFTRA members can afford to make halfway gains in anticipation of that more will be coming in three years, and we think it is absolutely vital that this negotiation protects not just our likenesses, but makes sure we are well compensated when any of our work is used to train AI. We want you to know that we would rather go on strike than compromise on these fundamental points, and we believe that, if we settle for a less than transformative deal, the future of our union and our craft will be undermined, and SAG-AFTRA will enter the next negotiation with drastically reduced leverage.

This is not a moment to meet in the middle, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that the eyes of history are on all of us. We ask that you push for all the change we need and protections we deserve and make history doing it. If you are not able to get all the way there, we ask that you use the power given to you by us, the membership, and join the WGA on the picket lines. For our union and its future, this is our moment. We hope that, on our behalf, you will meet that moment and not miss it.

Partial list of signatories

Below is a partial list of the updated SAG-AFTRA letter signatories (in alphabetical order).

Surprisingly, among the names not found (so far) in the “prepared to strike” letter are those of three labor-conscious Oscar winners: Jane Fonda (who, along with her Grace and Frankie costar Lily Tomlin, sang Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 theme song at the WGA picket line in front of Netflix’s Los Angeles headquarters), Susan Sarandon (who joined one of the WGA picket lines in New York City), and Holly Hunter (who supported a strike-authorization vote back in 2008).

The list:

Patrick J Adams, Lauren Adams, Alex Anfanger, Fred Armisen, Kevin Bacon, Talia Balsam, Elizabeth Banks, Jordana Brewster, Alison Brie, Connie Britton, Owen Burke, David Burtka, Rose Byrne, Neve Campbell, Keith Carradine, Jamie Chung. Glenn Close, Rob Corddry, David Cross, Ashleigh Cummings, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tim Daly, Ariana DeBose, Brooklyn Decker, Rosemarie DeWitt, Chris Diamantopoulos, Paul W. Downs, Fran Drescher, Julia Louis Dreyfuss, Minnie Driver, David Duchovny, Clea DuVall, Billy Eichner, JJ Feild, Dave Franco, Brendan Fraser, Peter Gallagher, Robert Gant, Beau Garrett, Brian Geraghty, Paul Giamatti, Josh Hamilton, Chelsea Handler, Neil Patrick Harris, Pat Healy, Tim Heidecker, Richard Jenkins, Rebekka Johnson, Jennifer Lawrence, John Leguizamo, Téa Leoni, Laura Linney, Ron Livingston, Eva Longoria, Natasha Lyonne, Rami Malek, Jena Malone, Rooney Mara, Marlee Matlin, Ewan McGregor, Chris Messina, Debra Messing, Liam Neeson, Bob Odenkirk, Rosie O’Donnell, Patton Oswalt, Elliot Page, Keke Palmer, Teresa Palmer, Pedro Pascal, Sarah Paulson, Ryan Perez, Busy Phillips, Joaquin Phoenix, Aubrey Plaza, Amy Poehler, Sarah Polley, Parker Posey, Keith Poulson, Alyssa Preston, Alex Quijano, Zachary Quinto, Sendhil Ramamurthy, Michael Rapport, Emmy Rossum, Mark Ruffalo, Paul Scheer, Amy Schumer, Kyra Sedgwick, Chlöe Sevigny, Amanda Seyfried, Gabourey Sidibe, John Slattery, Cobie Smulders, Fisher Stevens, Ben Stiller, Meryl Streep, Brenda Strong, Amber Tamblyn, Charlize Theron, Marisa Tomei, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Mike Vogel, Lesley Ann Warren, Steven Weber, Bradley Whitford, Olivia Wilde, Michelle Williams, Constance Wu, Noah Wyle.

“SAG-AFTRA Strike Looming: Oscar-Pedigreed Actors’ ‘Hardline’ Letter” notes

See also: GQ cravenly pulls article critical of Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav.

Fran Drescher image via the SAG-AFTRA website.

Meryl Streep Extrapolations series image: Apple TV+.

“SAG-AFTRA Strike Looming: Oscar-Pedigreed Actors ‘Hardline’ Letter” last updated in August 2023.

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