The Hollywood Sag-Aftra film and television actors’ strike has ended after four months with a tentative agreement that includes higher minimum-pay raises, a streaming bonus, and measures to protect against AI usage, although the specifics of enforcement are still uncertain. This strike, which surprisingly garnered public support and was not vilified by the media, challenges the perception of Hollywood as a hub of free-market principles. It is also noteworthy that British Equity does not possess the same level of bargaining power. The wave of social media posts featuring celebrities in sweatshirts and holding placards with no filter or makeup has come to a close.
Movies have a history of portraying unions and their actions in a negative light, from Marlon Brando’s character in On the Waterfront to Sylvester Stallone’s in FIST, and even Peter Sellers’ portrayal of a union leader with a Hitler-like mustache in I’m All Right Jack. This tradition continues with the final scene in Sergei Eisenstein’s Strike, where the workers are shown being gunned down as well as images of a cow being slaughtered. However, despite rumors of studios using the recent strike as an excuse to make cuts, the film industry seems to be thriving.
What does this mean for moviegoers? It may not have an immediate impact, unlike the US writers’ strike which resulted in talkshows being suspended and Drew Barrymore receiving criticism for trying to restart her show. However, production can now resume for previously delayed films such as Deadpool 3, Gladiator 2, and Wicked, and release dates can be set for movies like Dune: Part Two. While this may seem like a freeing up of sequels and adaptations, it does not necessarily indicate a resurgence of creativity or storytelling, as industry leaders often claim to be their purpose.
Actors in Hollywood who were protesting were not allowed to participate in events promoting their work, which meant they were not able to appear on talk shows. While this may not have been noticeable to British audiences of shows like The Graham Norton Show or The Jonathan Ross Show, there has been a shift towards featuring celebrities who are not promoting films. For example, Arnold Schwarzenegger has made appearances to promote his self-help book and Dame Judi Dench has discussed her work on Shakespeare. This has also spared viewers from the often disheartening practice of having multiple actors from the same film monopolize the spotlight on talk shows and essentially turn the program into a promotion for their movie.
During the strike, celebrities in Hollywood were allowed to publicly support their own projects as producers. This led to film festival organizers being more lenient towards their “passion projects” with the understanding that they would also attend the event as producers. This was evident with Chris Pine’s film Poolman, where he served as director, star, co-writer, and co-producer. However, the film received negative reactions at the London film festival. The strike gave attention to Pine and his film, which may not have been warranted. With the end of the strike, things will go back to normal for the most part. Streaming services and studios will become more conservative, and actors will be encouraged to focus on their designated roles. However, they can still reap the benefits of a highly profitable industry and have successfully reaffirmed their place in it.