For the first time in 63 years, Hollywood’s writers and actors are striking together, sparking heated discourse on social media over fair wages and working conditions in the entertainment industry, as well as the looming threat of generative AI.
Why are the writers and actors on strike?
Technology and wealth inequality; the rise of streaming has shattered the traditional residuals model for actors and writers, while generative AI threatens to further devalue their labor.
The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) have clashed over these issues with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP); both unions demand increases in base pay and residuals, greater transparency over viewership metrics, and seek to impose restrictions on generative AI.
Online commentators noted that the two unions were not to be underestimated; the storytellers of Hollywood know how to shape a narrative.
The actors have done what actors do best, and injected some drama into the struggle, many going viral after delivering passionate speeches and social media posts.
Here are the most viral moments from the writers and actors strike:
The Nanny speaks
Fran Drescher, former star of 90s sitcom The Nanny and current president of SAG-AFTRA, announced the strike as “a moment in history — a moment of truth.”
Drescher went on to say: “We are being victimized by a very greedy entity. I am shocked by the way the people that we have been in business with are treating us. I cannot believe it, quite frankly, how far apart we are on so many things. How they plead poverty, that they’re losing money left and right, when giving hundreds of millions of dollars to their CEOs. It is disgusting.”
She concluded by saying, “We are labor and we stand tall. We demand respect and to be honored for our contribution. You share the wealth because you cannot exist without us.”
Drescher’s fiery charisma caught the attention of the internet, and The Nanny fans saw reality mirroring fiction, comparing Drescher to the working-class, pro-union character she played in the show, who once vowed to “never, ever, ever cross a picket line.”
Oppenheimer launches first strike
The actors strike began with a bang, as the A-list cast of Chris Nolan’s much-anticipated Oppenheimer walked out of the film’s London premiere in the wake of the strike announcement.
Nolan praised his star-studded cast and explained their absence: “I have to acknowledge the work of our incredible cast, led by Cillian Murphy. The list is enormous — Robert Downey Jr, Matt Damon, Emily Blunt, Florence Pugh, Kenneth Branagh, Rami Malek and so many more. … Unfortunately, they are off to write their picket signs for what we believe to be an imminent strike by SAG, joining one of my guilds, the Writers Guild, in the struggle for fair wages for working members of their union.”
Nolan later told BBC News that he will not work on another film project until the strike was resolved, stating: “This is not about me, this is not about the stars of my film.”
Ron Perlman sees red
Ron Perlman went viral after posting a rant on social media directed toward an unnamed studio executive who gave a particularly cruel quote to Deadline, admitting that the AMPTP’s endgame “is to allow [the strike] to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses.”
Perlman responded to the anonymous executive on Instagram Live, saying: “Listen to me, motherf***ker. There’s a lot of ways to lose your house. Some of it is financial, some of it is karma, and some of it is just figuring out who the f*** said that – and we know who said that – and where he f***ing lives. … You wish that families would starve while you’re making 27 f***ing million dollars a year for creating nothing? Be careful, motherf***er. Be really careful.”
In a follow-up Instagram Live, Perlman admitted that he “got quite heated” in his video and clarified that he doesn’t actually “wish anybody any harm.”
Perlman went on to explain his perspective on the significance of the strike:
“I mean, this strike is just sort of… it’s a symptom of a struggle that’s way bigger than the strike itself. It’s a symptom of the soullessness of corporate America and how everything has become corporatised in this country.”
Everybody hates Bob Iger
Disney CEO Bob Iger came across as a villainous caricature after saying that the actors and writers are not being “realistic” with their expectations and described the strike as “very disturbing.”
Iger complained that the entertainment industry was already experiencing disruption and that “this is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption.”
Commentators pointed to Iger’s bloated salary and questioned why glaring wealth inequality is not viewed as “disturbing.”
Iger’s comments were easy to push back on; on TikTok, writer/producer Franchesca Ramsey stitched the video clip of Iger with a “translation,” interpreting Iger’s commentary as motivated by greed.
Actor Sean Gunn (brother of DC Studios head James Gunn) noted that Iger was making far too much money to complain, stating: “in 1980, CEOs made 30 times what the lowest worker was making, now Bob Iger makes 400 times what his lowest worker is making. I think that’s a f**king shame Bob, and maybe you should look in the mirror and ask why is that? Is it morally okay?”
Fran Drescher also chimed in and dismissed Iger’s opinion, stating: “it’s so obvious that he has no clue as to what is really happening.”
AI mirrors Black Mirror
The role of generative AI has proved to be one of the most contentious issues of the strike, with the unions seeking to place guardrails on the technology, and the AMPTP outright rejecting any hint of regulation.
The AI debate has imbued the labor struggle with a dystopian undertone that several commentators have compared to an episode of satirical sci-fi series Black Mirror.
SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland alleged that a proposal from Hollywood studios involved digitally capturing the likeness of background actors, offering the actors only a single day of pay in return.
“This ‘groundbreaking’ AI proposal that they gave us yesterday, they proposed that our background performers should be able to be scanned, get one day’s pay, and their companies should own that scan, their image, their likeness and should be able to use it for the rest of eternity on any project they want, with no consent and no compensation,” he said.
On social media, commentators responded in horror; many posted clips of uncanny VFX replicas of deceased actors in Ezra Miller’s The Flash to prove how the technology is the worst, even at its high-budget “best.”
Streaming doesn’t pay
Television actors have traditionally relied on residual payments as a steady income stream; an appearance on a successful show can yield a significant amount of money as the reruns accumulate (the cast of Friends, for example, have reaped millions of dollars from the show’s success).
In contrast, actors starring in the biggest hits of the streaming giants have experienced fame without the fortune; the cast of Orange is the New Black recently went viral after a feature in the New Yorker exposed how little they were paid for their work.
According to Netflix, Orange is one of their most-watched originals ever, but during the shows run, several of the stars had to keep working side-jobs to make rent, and years later, residuals and royalties have trickled down to a few dollars.
On TikTok in 2020, Orange star Kimiko Glenn shared a video of her opening a royalties check and joking about how she’s “about to be so rich.” The camera then reveals the total payout from the check, $27.30, prompting shock and disbelief from her fans.
The video resurfaced in the wake of the strike, inspiring other actors to share screenshots of their paltry earnings on social media.
No shade for strikers
Picketing in the hot summer of L.A. was never going to be comfortable, but strikers suspect that the studios want them to feel the heat.
Comedian Chris Stephens posted a photo of a trimmed tree outside of Universal Studios with the caption: “Quick shoutout to the good people at @UniversalPics for trimming the trees that gave our picket line shade right before a 90+ degree week.”
The picture went viral, as a perfect illustration of what the strikers are fighting against. Writer and director Eric Haywood added, “Can definitely confirm I saw this today. The studios always want to insist they’re not the bad guys but somehow manage to keep doing supervillain sh*t.”
Former Wonder Woman star Lynda Carter tweeted: “In addition to how cruel this is to humans, this is also really bad for the trees.”
Numbers and demands
From the beginning, the strikers have emphasized that there is more than enough money in Hollywood to compensate all workers fairly.
On social media, commentators have been sharing screenshots illustrating the wealth imbalance that sparked the labor action in the first place, and the numbers are impossible to argue with.
On top of that, the demands from SAG-AFTRA were posted online, along with the responses from the AMPTP. Outsiders might not know the ins and outs of the business, but many of the rejected proposals do not cast the AMPTP in a good light.
Comedy writer Jesse McLaren responded to the rejected proposals with a simple, yet ominous tweet:
“Alright. Let Ron Perlman loose.”