On Sept. 4, 2023, the United States celebrated its national holiday, Labor Day. Celebrated on the first Monday of September, Labor Day originated in the late 19th century as a day to recognize the social and economic achievements of workers in America, especially to recognize the impact of labor unions. Beginning in July of 2023, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (commonly known as the SAG-AFTRA union) went on strike.
What SAG-AFTRA union members are seeking is a change within the film industry. The members are going against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in order to update economic needs in an industry that now has a large streaming platform. In addition to higher wages, members are fighting against the increasing use of artificial intelligence to create stories typically written by humans.
“I 100% support the strike and everything the unions are standing for. Honestly, it is a little absurd thinking about why these strikes are happening and why, in 2023, we can’t pay one of the backbones to the entertainment industry a fair wage,” said Miranda Patterson ’24, a dance and new media studies major who participates in screenwriting.
“On one hand, the rise of AI and technology is threatening the nature of the career; another reason for the strikes is because studios are always trying to find a “faster” and “cheaper” way to push content out. On the other hand, barriers like this inspire a whole new generation of creativity. I believe the stories because of the strike will be some of the best that we’ve seen in years,” said Patterson.
Although Patterson is in support of the SAG-AFTRA strike, she expressed that she is not “overly optimistic”.
“Unfortunately, this is not the first writers’ strike of its kind. I believe there have been five or six [strikes], with the most recent happening back in 2007,” said Patterson.
“The last strike cost around $2 billion in damage and work lost in the industry; I hope this one can cause more, hopefully waking Hollywood to its unfair practices. I hope we see higher wages and residuals, and a way to incorporate AI where it’s used as a tool and not a job filler,” said Patterson.
Prathita Nath, a 2023 Alma College graduate and avid union supporter, made similar statements to those of Patterson.
“I feel that across all industries there is a spike in the labor movement and the SAG-AFTRA strike is just one of the outcomes of what happens when corporations feel that they can exploit and overwork their workers,” said Nath.
“Very recently the visual effects (VFX) workers of Marvel Studios and Disney filed to be represented by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE),” said Nath. Changes such as these could inspire other industries to either unionize or re-energize pre-existing unions.
While examining the impact of the current strike, the importance of writers and their work must also be taken into consideration.
“Every writer and content creator are the sole owners of their creative work, and no one should be challenging that unless they themselves give away their ownership with the said piece,” said Nath.
“Selfishly, most pieces I write I want to create myself. In that instance, unless asked for, I wouldn’t want any other say in what I’m doing with my writing; keeping it as close to the source as possible is important to me,” said Patterson.
“However, a lot of writers aren’t interested in filmmaking, in which they hand their script off to a studio or director to play with it as they will. In this way screenwriting differs from most other types, in which then I would argue that protecting your words and your art is one of the most important things you can do,” said Patterson.
Dr. Robert Vivian, a member of Alma College’s English and MFA faculty who has had many of his works published, expressed his concern over the situation.
“The questions you ask and the issues you raise are staggering. Once technology veers into the subjective spaces of being a human being, we become less human. Personally, I want nothing to do with it, ever,” said Vivian. The latest update in the news surrounding the SAG-AFTRA strike is that the union has voting underway for a separate strike against the video game industry for the same reasons connected to writers and actors within the film industry. One thing is for certain: the fight is far from over.