Hollywood on strike, Day 1: Picket lines outside the studios

With the SAG-AFTRA union president, Fran Drescher, at the helm, hundreds of actors joined writers in protests in L.A. and New York

Huelga de actores en Hollywood
Actress and SAG-AFTRA actors union president Fran Drescher, along with chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, picket on the first day of the actors' strike at Netflix offices in Los Angeles, California, on July 14, 2023.MIKE BLAKE (REUTERS)
María Porcel

It’s official: Hollywood is on strike and there is no going back. At midnight on Friday, the announcement that the actors union (SAG-AFTRA) had made hours earlier went into force. After failing to reach an agreement over their collective bargaining agreement with the studios, the union’s 160,000 members walked out, staging protests in Los Angeles and New York.

The picket lines got moving in the middle of a heat wave in L.A., where the temperature was in excess of 87 degrees Fahrenheit (31 degrees Celsius). The sweltering weather did not deter the thousands of people who yelled, paced and blew on their whistles outside studio doors. The Netflix offices, located on Sunset Boulevard, in the heart of Hollywood, were busy first thing in the morning. The most visible faces of the union, including its president, Fran Drescher, arrived there at around 9:20 a.m.. Also present was her discreet and skilled right-hand man, chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland.

The actress, known for her role in the 1990s series The Nanny, has been the star of crowded demonstrations outside studios. Among the protesters there were also many screenwriters who, after more than two months on a strike of their own, wanted to show support for their colleagues. However, there was a dearth of famous faces, unlike when screenwriters walked out and stars like Mark Ruffalo, Cynthia Nixon and Pete Davidson brought them pizzas. At the Disney headquarters, it was possible to see some members of the cast of series This Is Us.

Huelga en Hollywood
Pickets in front of the Netflix studios, in Los Angeles, Caljfornia.MIKE BLAKE (REUTERS)

But Drescher made up for everything with her enthusiasm and charisma, focusing the attention of the American media, which keep turning to her for juicy statements delivered in fiery tones. Early on Friday outside the Netflix offices, she again reiterated how disappointed she was with the studios, but added that she felt “tremendously excited” by the support she had received from all corners of the world. Drescher has insisted on an idea aimed at averting any rejection that ordinary citizens may feel for this strike: that this is a stoppage of normal people who do not earn millions of dollars. The message is being repeated from all sides to prevent this from looking like a war between the elites. As actress Caroline Renard successfully tweeted, “As a member of SAG-AFTRA, you have to earn $26,000 a year to qualify for health insurance. 87% of union members do not reach that annual amount.”

Drescher has not shied away from criticizing the most powerful people in the industry. When Bob Iger, CEO of Disney, said that the actors’ demands were “unrealistic,” she described these statements by an executive who earned $45 million in 2021 and who intends to cut 7,000 jobs as “disgusting and tactless.”

Drescher has been accompanied by some familiar faces, such as Frances Fisher, Ben Whitehair, Michelle Hurd, Joely Fisher and Sean Astin. Protesters carried placards, many personalized with photographs, drawings and messages such as “We are irreplaceable,” “You need us” and “Without actors there are no superheroes.”

Karyna Shackelford and Chris Pecchenino, two actors who are a couple, were protesting outside the Paramount studios, and lamented what they described as selfishness on the part of the studios. “Many of us have two jobs, there are people who have to drive Uber cars... The middle class is dropping all over the world, including among us,” lamented Shackelford, who said they would protest a couple of times a week, “because the bills have to be paid.” “If musicians have royalties, we actors should have them too, because with our work, our voice, our body, we create the characters that otherwise would not exist.”

“People should cancel their subscriptions to platforms,” said Shackeford. “Money... It’s the only thing that worries them.”

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