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Actress Amirah Vann
Actress Amirah Vann
Photo by Viktor Pacheco
Culture > Entertainment

An Insider’s Look into the WGA Actor’s Strike  

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Temple chapter.

SAG-AFTRA, a joint labor union between the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists officially began striking against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on July 14, 2023. With about 160,000 members, an overwhelming majority of 98% agreed to participate in the strike. This was soon after the Writers Guild of America also known as WGA, began to strike against AMPTP as well on May 2, 2023.  

With no actors or writers, this has led to a massive  shutdown of media and entertainment production. This includes promotions, filming, development of scripts, and ultimately an enormous loss of money.  Projects have been delayed and release schedules revised. So, the big question is, what is going on?  

Like a majority of other strikes that have taken place before, it all boils down to an overall lack of appreciation and an urgent need for drastic change. In this case actors are noticing a decrease in the number of residual payments for their work which have been released on streaming services. Residuals are essentially the amount paid over a period of time to the workers on a specific film.  

According to actor and SAG-AFTRA member Kurt Yue, the number of residual payments paid to a worker typically depended on the popularity of the film they took part in. For example, the more DVDs a film sold, the more money a worker who took part in the film would earn. Presently, this would mean the number of views a film received as well as reruns.  

This seems simple and fair enough. So how did streaming services manage to change this system? It appears big streaming services such as Netflix have not been providing the necessary information or analytics about the popularity of the films they display and instead pay a fixed amount to the workers in residuals.  

According to Variety, this is because they place a high amount of value on subscriptions rather than the number of viewers engaging with each project. However, with such a system in place to pay actors and writers, is it even legal to withhold such information from them?  

The unfortunate truth is that it has not been officially deemed illegal though SAG-AFTRA president, Fran Drescher, says she believes it will eventually become that way soon. With the increasing usage and popularity of streaming services, the old system of residuals has changed in which actors are getting paid less for projects they would have gotten more from in the past. Actress Mandy Moore claims she has received pennies in residuals, and a report of a check barely making nine dollars.  

This new system which Drescher claims was “foisted” upon Hollywood actors only allows for actors to be paid a fixed amount for the show to appear on their platform.  The situation is so extreme that the average amount a typical actor makes isn’t even enough to qualify for health insurance. While we are used to seeing big names such as Tom Cruise or Will Smith flaunt their luxurious lifestyles and multimillion-dollar mansions, it can be easy to overlook that most actors make nowhere near that amount of money. 

 According to CBS News, approximately 87% of SAG-AFTRA members currently make less than 26K annually from their acting gigs, which is nowhere near a living wage. So, when involved in a big project that required lots of work and dedication, one can understand the anger of being paid significantly less than what one should have received,   

Not only are actors in conflict with streaming services over residual payments, but the rise of AI technology has left actors nervous about the overall availability of jobs in the future. While AI technology can be exciting and helpful, it can also be detrimental to human beings who personally bring their talent and creativity to the big screen. Currently, technologies are proving to be able to replicate an actor’s performance by simply scanning the performer, limiting the need for the actor to be present at all. It can even replicate writing styles threatening writers’ jobs as well.  

A representative of AMPTP claims this only applies to the replica of a background performer while anything else requires the actors’ consent. However, there have been reports of use of AI replication on workers without their permission such as Erik Passoja who provided the voice for a character on Call of Duty nearly a decade ago, only for his face to be replicated on an entirely new character years later who could be killed in extremely violent ways all without Passoja’s permission. This incident, which left Passoja feeling “violated,” was through an unjust use of AI technologies which has since become more powerful.  

I have recently had the wonderful opportunity to speak with an incredible actress and strike participant, Amirah Vann, on the current situation to gain better insight into the actors’ perspectives. Most recognized for her role in How to Get Away with Murder, and most recently the new horror series, The Changeling, she opened about her opinions and experiences on the present system and strike. 

The conversation was as follows:  


Have you been personally affected by the strike and how long will you participate in the strike? 


“Yes, I have been affected personally and have had to make aggressive modifications in order to care for my family and stand in solidarity for the change that must happen. And that’s after being on multiple successful shows. But of greater import are all of those in the majority: actors who can barely make their health insurance and those behind the scenes. Why is this struggle so pervasive? Because, from my experience, the majority of people in our field are driven by passion and purpose not wealth. And yet, they strike and stand firm. We don’t want a handout. We want the evolution of our industry to be fully realized. We need to value each other. And, as per usual, it is an honor to stand among the artists for as long it takes.” 


How have you been affected by streaming services?  


“Transparency is key and that, for me, is a major need that has not been fulfilled. The growth of streaming services is the direct result of the extraordinary content artists create. Some shows are such hits that people decide to sign up for a specific streaming service just to be able to watch. Residuals must reflect this ongoing successful revenue stream. That is fair practices and reflective of the current viewing climate. It also supports more quality content to be created for viewers as artists can use the residual income to create and audition between jobs without the “need to survive” being a strong deciding factor.” 


What is your advice to struggling actors who now must compete with AI technologies?  


“Remember what makes you human. As a student at Fordham University, majoring in acting, I was introduced to art as activism by my mentor, Lawrence Sacharow. We volunteered with rehabilitation facilities, and I saw firsthand how effective storytelling is in healing and educating. To step into someone’s shoes and embrace their experience as your own takes a huge amount of compassion and self-reflection—especially when it is seemingly so difficult to understand. That is what is being asked of you and that is what we ask of the audience. It’s soul work and takes a soul to do. Evolve yes. And do so with your soul intact.” 


In your opinion, is acting a lost art form? 


“Never. The craft of acting will forever live on. It is unbreakable. From the beginning of time, we have found ways to celebrate, learn, share, grow…through the universal language of curiosity and empathy. We need humans to lead that charge.”  

Actors and writers are standing firm in their decision to rebel against the current state of this Hollywood Climate. How are execs reacting? CBS has reached out to Netflix for a statement in which they have “declined comment”. Disney CEO, Bob Iger deemed the SAG-AFTRA demands as “unrealistic”.  

Most recently on September 27th, 2023, the WGA ended their 148-day strike against AMPTP. Currently the SAG-AFTRA strike is still ongoing with plans to continue negotiations according to CBS.  

I believe we must ask ourselves the important questions when choosing to either stand with SAG-AFTRA or look the other way. Not only should we consider the delay of our favorite TV shows and movies, but the lives of the workers who help bring these stories to life. Greed and ease are powerful forces that can grow rapidly with dire consequences when left unchecked. Let us consider our humanity and the future of art as the strike progresses and hope we can soon have a resolution that allows for appreciation over financial gain.  

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