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My Thoughts On The SAG-AFTRA Strike

Remember when the musical theater industry took its final bow on March 12, 2020, due to the arrival of COVID-19? I was devastated to see how members of the performing arts community as well as the performing arts industry were suffering terribly, due to something that was out of their control. Not only was last year no different, but I think the situation was worse by comparison. Hence, the controversial battle that sparked the SAG-AFTRA strike. The strike lasted 118 days and was considered to be the longest actors strike in Hollywood history. These are my thoughts.

The issues that led up to the strike were unsatisfaction with payment, working conditions, streaming residuals, and the threat of possible replacement by A.I. “There has been a sea change in the entertainment industry, from the proliferation of streaming platforms to the recent explosion of generative AI, and at stake is the ability of our members to make a living,” National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator of SAG-AFTRA Duncan Crabtree-Ireland explained in TIME Magazine. “We must ensure that new developments in the entertainment industry are not used to devalue or disrespect the performers who bring productions to life.”

When SAG-AFTRA tried to reach a deal with Hollywood organizations, their needs were not met, and this propelled them to organize a strike to battle these issues. “SAG-AFTRA negotiated in good faith and was eager to reach a deal that sufficiently addressed performer needs, but the AMPTP’s responses to the union’s most important proposals have been insulting and disrespectful of our massive contributions to this industry.” SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher stated on the organization’s website. “The companies have refused to meaningfully engage on some topics and on others completely stonewalled us. Until they do negotiate in good faith, we cannot begin to reach a deal. We have no choice but to move forward in unity, and on behalf of our membership, with a strike recommendation to our National Board. The board will discuss the issue this morning and will make its decision.”

I felt incredibly angry and frustrated to hear that workers in the Entertainment industry were being treated this way. Especially when it comes to A.I. which threatens the livelihoods of creative artists alike. “It’s not so much about what AI is going to do, but what companies are going to use AI to justify,” Managing Director of AI Now Institute Sarah Myers West explained. “They could use AI to create a first draft and then bring in someone else to do a second draft. And that devalues their work by not having them do that whole process,” How could Hollywood companies think that a heavy metal of plastic would have more value and worth, than a human being who’s worked hard through school, small jobs, finances, and other obstacles just to make a difference in the entertainment business?

Robots don’t have passion, energy, drive, ambition, or other human characteristics. Human beings do, and the fact that people are willing to push others aside to make room for soulless objects because they don’t want to accommodate human workers is disgustingly insulting. People dedicate their lives to doing what they love that brings fulfillment, and it’s heartbreaking to see them be taken for granted like this. During the strike, major changes took place in Hollywood that caused the industry to shut down.

This means that movie and TV productions in the works such as Deadpool 3, Gladiator 2, and Wicked: Part One had to pause film production due to actors, writers, and producers participating in the strike. “Wicked, the film adaptation of the 20-year-old Broadway show, directed by Jon M. Chu was just a few days away from completing filming when it had to stop production.” TIME Magazine reporter Mariah Espada explained. “Chu tweeted they will resume after the strike is settled and that the delay should not impact its expected release in winter 2024.”

Fortunately, during the strike, some movies and TV shows such as Mother Mary and Bride Hard were able to continue production because they weren’t affected by the strike as Mariah Espada states, “A24’s Mother Mary film starring Anne Hathaway, Michaela Coel, and Hunter Schafer has gotten a SAG-AFTRA waiver due to being independent and not being affiliated with a studio that belongs to AMPTP.” This situation reminded me of when Broadway as well as New York shut down due to COVID-19 and that caused musicals, plays, and other businesses to shut down permanently.

The difference is that Broadway New York was in distress due to external factors that were in no one’s control, whereas in this situation Hollywood was in distress due to internal factors that did have control. This makes the SAG-AFTRA-Hollywood situation worse because if there had been more cooperation with Hollywood organizations, then nothing would be on hold and workers wouldn’t have to scramble around to figure out what their next move is. This makes me angrier and more frustrated, because of how avoidable this situation could have been.

Finally, the day came when SAG-AFTRA was able to reach a satisfying deal with AMPTP that helped put this historic strike to an end as stated by the SAG-AFTRA organization, “We have arrived at a contract that will enable SAG-AFTRA members from every category to build sustainable careers. Many thousands of performers now and into the future will benefit from this work.” I was thrilled for SAG-AFTRA that they were able to finally have their needs met, and this new deal will be beneficial for creative artists in the present and future.

To conclude, even though I’m happy that the SAG-AFTRA-Hollywood drama is now over, we must do better than this. People must do better to treat their employees better than they did before because what happened last year could happen again under worse circumstances. We should learn from this experience that people in business who give A+ quality work should be treated equally and fairly.

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