By Kalia Richardson
Thousands of SAG-AFTRA and WGA members lined the sidewalks surrounding the Warner Bros. Discovery office Thursday, raising signs of union solidarity and dancing to tambourines and drum beats as leaders chanted for a just contract. Actors like Oscar Isaac, F. Murray Abraham, and John Leguizamo were joined by union representation from backstage entertainment crews, freight workers, local unions, and numerous other groups.
When Leguizamo took the stage, he called the turnout “a block party but for workers’ rights.” With streaming on the rise, the comedian and actor highlighted the actors union’s revenue-sharing proposal that could fix inadequate streaming residuals.
“We all know the studios will figure it out and adapt, we don’t underestimate their ability to make money,” he says. “So, they better not underestimate our ability to make sure they pay the people who make them rich.”
As the Writers Guild of America passes four months on the picket lines – and the actors’ union has reached the two-month mark – some daytime talk shows, like The Drew Barrymore Show and The View, have decided to resume production without their unionized writers. And Bill Maher announced Wednesday that his HBO talk show Real Time is returning to the air sans writers because he’s supposedly “not prepared to lose an entire year and see so many below-the-line people suffer so much.”
Roy Wood Jr., a correspondent and writer on The Daily Show, is not a fan of talk shows resuming production.
“It’s definitely a bad look, but everybody at this point is starting to do what they believe is best for their team,” Wood Jr. tells Rolling Stone.
The five big late-night talk show hosts — Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon, John Oliver, and Seth Meyers — have halted production of their programs in solidarity with striking writers and and are raising funds for their out-of-work staffers through a podcast, Strike Force Five. Meanwhile, actors like Lena Dunham and Adam Scott are participating in auctions to raise money for film and TV crews in need of healthcare benefits.
The double work stoppage has been challenging for already struggling film and TV workers. Only 14% of SAG-AFTRA members make at least $26,470 annually to qualify for health insurance, according to SAG-AFTRA. Actress Jaimie Alexander, who has starred in Blindspot and the Thor films, attended Thursday’s rally to support the majority of actors who are unable to make a living wage, as well as her stunt team.
“We’re one big family and it’s important to stand up for one another,” Alexander tells Rolling Stone.
The rise of artificial intelligence has been a sticking point in strike negotiations. In July, the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) reportedly planned to pay background actors a low daily rate to take AI scans of them, according to SAG-AFTRA. In response, the AMPTP said SAG-AFTRA had “distorted the facts ” of their proposal and offered limited AI protections.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, who sued former president Trump and his children for massive fraud, received thunderous applause while speaking at the podium. She says she wants AI out of the writer’s room, which she says can never replicate the emotional intelligence and experience of everyday New Yorkers. It’s about protecting human rights and maintaining the human element in the entertainment industry, she argues.
“If there’s a lawsuit that I can come up with you can bet it’s about suing them as well,” James says, targeting Hollywood studios and streamers.
Other notable figures in attendance included Ellen Barkin, Linda Powell, Dean Winters, Samantha Mathis, and Avatar villain Stephen Lang.
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As striking actors fight for fair compensation, AI protections, revenue sharing, and updates to health care benefits, they’re also looking for a bigger cut of residuals, as streaming services have upended traditional pay scales. Barkin, known for her roles in Diner, Drop Dead Gorgeous, and TNT’s Animal Kingdom, says her last annual residual payment was $47. At 69, she says she’s attending the rally to support the next generation.
“I’m fighting this fight for my daughter,” Barkin says. “I’m fighting this fight for everybody.”
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