Why the SAG-AFTRA strike matters

And what it could mean for the future of entertainment

Illustration by Gabrielle Funk

An unprecedented labour dispute has marked the summer of 2023, holding the entertainment industry hostage.

On July 14, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) embarked on a strike. Approximately 160,000 members’ demands include better pay, improved working conditions and a fair slice of the ever-evolving entertainment pie.

This strike is not just a singular event. It’s a historical turning point. It’s the first actors’ strike since 1980 and the first joint strike involving both actors and writers since 1960.

The concurrent strike by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) lends even more weight to SAG-AFTRA’s pleas for equitable compensation in an industry where creativity should never be undervalued.

Now, these strikes have plunged the American film and television industries into a state of uncertainty.

SAG-AFTRA’s dispute is with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the film and TV industry.

The strike is not just about money. It’s about ensuring that the people who breathe life into stories aren’t left behind as new technologies like streaming and artificial intelligence reshape the industry.

Famous actors from the Breaking Bad cast, including Bryan Cranston, Bob Odenkirk and Aaron Paul, got back together and joined their coworkers in the protest. This gesture shows the industry as a whole, including writers, crew and all those who work behind the scenes, as well as the performers’ solidarity.

In an interview with the BBC, Brian Cox, the commanding star of HBO’s Succession, calls for the regulation of new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and digital recreation and the fair compensation of actors’ residuals. Cox’s concern for the future of entertainment resonates with many, highlighting the cloud of uncertainty over an industry in the midst of transformation.

Streaming giants’ insatiable greed looms large over the creative landscape, affecting both writers and actors. The battle they wage is not just against the AMPTP but against a system that constantly prioritizes profit while disregarding human talent.

So what lies ahead for this historic strike? What outcomes can audiences anticipate?

Already, production delays are causing ripples, affecting release dates and jobs for dedicated crew members. Financial losses for studios are mounting, and the longer the strike persists, the deeper these losses will cut.

A successful strike could usher in higher wages and better benefits for actors and writers, setting a precedent for fair compensation and improved working conditions. This could benefit not just those currently on strike but generations to come.

However, the spectre of increased AI adoption in production looms if the strike drags on. Studios may turn to AI, potentially leading to job losses for actors and writers.

The outcome of the strike hinges on key factors: the strength and resilience of SAG-AFTRA, the willingness of the AMPTP to negotiate and audience support (by following and urging corporations by tagging them on their social-media handles everywhere, of course).

Audiences must recognize the strike’s importance for the industry and workers’ rights. It’s a battle for fairness, equity and the recognition of the creative, enriching forces.

So what next for the SAG-AFTRA strike? The future remains uncertain, but one thing is clear: the voices behind the screen will not be silenced. The show must go on, but it must go on with fairness and justice for all.

Dara Babatope is an English major at the University of Winnipeg. In his free time, he writes or watches films.

Published in Volume 78, Number 03 of The Uniter (September 21, 2023)

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