Since July 14, the SAG-AFTRA union and its members have been in industrial action for better conditions. Those affected report why.
At the next film premieres of major Hollywood films, fans will encounter the obligatory influencers, possibly local stars and starlets from the entertainment industry, and in the best case scenario, film executives such as directors and producers. The actual stars of the respective films will not be there, however, because in Hollywood the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) has been on strike since July 14 of this year – supporting PR work or marketing campaigns is one of the activities that are now taboo for the approximately 160,000 members.
But wait a minute, some will now think: Hollywood stands for glitz, glamour and ostentation! The stars are all swimming in money and earning a fortune from advertising alone – for movies, Dwayne Johnson and Co. collect 20 million US dollars plus a share of the profits? They live in luxury villas, fly by private plane to a climate conference and let themselves be fed by Salt Bae! Why are they on strike now? Is this a bad joke? Our people don’t even get the minimum wage for hard work, and all they have to do is grin at the camera!
But this is exactly the reason why the union has now called the strike: It’s about those the movie-going public doesn’t see, doesn’t recognize and doesn’t adore. It is about the thousands and thousands of actors who have to earn their daily bread in supporting roles, as extras, and often even as stand-ins, as so-called (lighting) doubles for the expensive stars. These people cannot live from their profession, they juggle several jobs to pursue their dream of the big Hollywood breakthrough. They live paycheck to paycheck and often don’t know how or from what they will pay the next rent. The SAG-AFTRA strike is about better conditions, including essentials like health insurance and retirement benefits.
It is the first strike in 43 years and the first double strike in 63 years with the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA), the writers’ union that has been on strike since May of this year. So it is quite understandable that many are not at all aware of why actors in Hollywood, the largest film entertainment industry in the world, are going on the barricades in the first place and bringing the production of films and series to a standstill for weeks, if not months.
Actress denounces: Netflix didn’t even pay for a ride to the set
This makes it all the more important that, in addition to the big stars, those truly affected by the industry speak out and report on the sometimes inhumane and appalling conditions caused precisely by the advent of publicly traded streaming services:
Luke Cook, known for small roles in series such as “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” and “Dollface,” emphasized in a TikTok video that he is by no means a millionaire. He drives an old 2010 Mazda 3 and has several jobs to support his activity as an actor. He has two children and it is by no means his concern to get paid as much as the big stars, he just wants to be compensated appropriately as an actor. It could not be that he had to do several jobs on the side as an actor in series with a worldwide audience of millions:
“This strike is not about millionaires*. As I’ve said before, 95 percent of SAG actors can’t survive doing just this job. Your favorite actors may not even be affected… […] As a fighter and someone who has a part-time job, I’m just asking to be paid more for creating your favorite show on TV. If you see me on TV, I shouldn’t have to have two side jobs just to survive.”
Kimiko Glenn was part of the great ensemble of “Orange is the New Black,” one of Netflix’s first major in-house productions, and has numerous fans around the world. In the huge hit “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse,” which grossed around $650 million worldwide, she is the original voice of the feisty Peni Parker. Glenn addressed an enormously sore point. Actors receive royalties for their participation in movies and series. In traditional and linear television, this could easily be replicated: Whenever a production was rebroadcast, they received their royalties. Streaming services like Netflix, however, pay ridiculously marginal sums that are basically not worth mentioning, according to those affected. She received royalties of $27.30, Glenn told TikTok:
“We were not paid well, ever. And if I said ‘not well paid,’ you would die. People were still bartending. People still had their second jobs. They were fucking famous, internationally famous, couldn’t leave the house, but they had to keep their second jobs because they couldn’t afford not to have them. They couldn’t afford cabs to the set.”
Sean Gunn, brother of DCU boss James Gunn and Marvel star, expressed his extreme dissatisfaction with the way streaming giant Netflix compensates its acting endings in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. He said he received virtually no royalties for “Gilmore Girls.”
“I was part of a television series called ‘Gilmore Girls’ for a long time, which made Netflix enormous profits. It has been one of the most popular series for a long time, for over a decade. It’s streamed over and over again; and I see almost none of the revenue generated from it.”
Hollywood stars like George Clooney and star directors like Christopher Nolan are speaking out
The importance of royalties, especially for the countless actors who have either just entered the profession or are still trying to make a name for themselves, was made clear by Glen Powell (“Top Gun: Maverick”), who has been working as an actor since 2003 but whose career has only really taken off in recent years:
“For years I lived off royalties while trying to make a living as an actor. This business is constantly evolving and actors’ livelihoods should be protected at every turn. I stand up for my colleagues*.”
Daniel Radcliffe is one of the very, very few Hollywood stars not affected by the mere struggle to survive. He’s been lucky because playing Harry Potter in the film adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s world-famous novels paved the way and made him financially secure at a young age. And he knows this (via Vanity Fair):
“I’m one of the very, very few lucky and rare actors who have a strong negotiating position when I work. That’s not most people’s experience. And I think both the actors and the writers* who are currently on strike, no one wants these things to happen – but I think they’re incredibly necessary to the way the industry is evolving.”
Margot Robbie, who will be seen as Barbie in cinemas from July 20, 2023, stressed when asked by Sky News that she was behind the decision to strike against Hollywood studios and streaming services:
“Absolutely. I support all the unions. I’m a member of SAG[-AFTRA], so I absolutely stand by it.”
George Clooney, who is said to have an estimated fortune of half a billion U.S. dollars (via Celebrity Net Worth), has also spoken out about the strike. After all, he too started his career with small and modest steps, starring in the super-trash “The Return of the Killer Tomatoes,” for example, and had to borrow money from his friends to survive (via The Hollywood Reporter):
“This is a turning point in our industry. If our industry is going to survive, something has to change. For actors, that journey starts now. […] The majority of actors and writers* have lost the ability to make a living.”
In solidarity with the labor dispute of SAG-AFTRA and the WGA, star director Christopher Nolan, whose new film “Oppenheimer” in cinemas from July 20, 2023, has announced to BBC News that he will not work on any new production until an amicable agreement is reached. This is despite the fact that his own union, the Directors Guild of America (DGA), has already reached an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which advocates for the interests of film studios and streaming services, for example:
“It’s very important that everyone understands that this is a key moment in the relationship between the workforce and Hollywood. […] It’s about working actors, it’s about TV program editors trying to raise a family and put food on the table. […] It’s about this new world of streaming and a world where they don’t license their product to other networks, they keep it for themselves.”