Lessons from the Last Time Actors Went on Strike

Deadpool 3 is shut down, the Oppenheimer cast left the premiere early, and for the first time in 43 years members of SAG-AFTRA are on strike. Also like that last strike, the future of Hollywood is at stake.

Oppenheimer Cast at London premiere
Photo: Joe Maher / Getty Images

The only other time members of both the actors and writers guilds were simultaneously on strike was in the first half of 1960. For context, this was around the same time that Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was unleashed on cinemas, the biggest movie stars of the screen were still Cary Grant, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe, and the actors’ union was led by someone named Ronald Reagan.

In other words, members of what we today call the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) rarely take their bargaining power to the picket lines. When they do, it’s often at major inflection points for the industry, such as the one laid out by SAG President Fran Drescher in a speech Thursday afternoon.

Confirming that the more than 170,000 members of SAG are on strike as of yesterday, Drescher stressed in fiery remarks that “the eyes of the world, and particularly the eyes of labor, are upon us. What happens to us is important. What’s happening to us is happening across all fields of labor…. because it is a slippery slope into a very dangerous time, and a real dystopia if big business, corporations, think they can put human beings out of work and replace them with artificial intelligence.”

Indeed, the way SAG leaders see the issue at hand, their joining the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which has been on strike since May 2, will mark a coordinated effort to force modern film studios and streaming services to make concessions for how success is measured and resulting profits are distributed in the streaming market, as well as crucially install guardrails for an industry that apparently is looking seriously at the applications of using artificial intelligence to create “content” for consumers.


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