The unmistakable voice of “The Nanny” filled the room, but this was no sitcom episode or Lifetime made-for-TV movie. With nearly 100 people inside the IATSE Local 479 meeting room and an equal number of people inside an overflow room in the back, award-winning actress Fran Drescher addressed the crowd via Zoom. For more than 20 minutes Drescher, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artist (SAG-AFTRA) President, spoke about the current TV/theatrical/streaming strike that has been taking place across the country and about what the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) has been unwilling to budge on during recent negotiations.
“You can’t negotiate an old contract for a new business model,” explained Drescher, who referred to the strike as a “global labor movement.”
“This is a very dynamic time and I knew this was going to be a seminal negotiation,” added Drescher. “It’s a very different business model and there comes a time when you realize you are being marginalized.”
A labor movement, not an entertainment movement
The strike between SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP began Friday, July 14 and according to SAG-AFTRA Atlanta Local President Eric Goins, who is also a member of the negotiating committee, this is just the beginning. “When I say union, you say strong,” Goins yelled into a microphone. “When I say Union, you say power.”
“This is a labor movement,” said Goins. “This isn’t an entertainment movement.”
The entertainment industry in Atlanta would not have warranted rooms full of union members, supporters, and actors and union leaders 20 years ago. Then came the film tax credit and from that point on the movie and television makers of the world, and the many thousands of people that help make movie magic possible in front of and behind the camera, flocked to Atlanta to take advantage of a major financial incentive.
The Georgia Entertainment Industry Investment Act allows for refundable tax credits to be given to studios and filmmakers that play their trade in Georgia. The tax credit was created to bolster the Georgia film industry and it succeeded ten fold. The Georgia film industry employs thousands of people; actors, directors, writers, dancers, lighting crews, stunt crews, craft services (food), and security, to name a few. The explosion of the Georgia film industry has brought billions of financial investment to the state, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development.
SAG-AFTRA leadership has been clear that increases in wages for working actors and performers are necessary in order to continue working on the many television shows and movies that dominate streaming services and movie theaters worldwide. SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland also made an appearance via Zoom following Drescher. He stressed that the membership remained solidified, especially early in the strike. “They know our strength is in our unity,” he said. “Don’t let them trick us into starting to fight with each other because no one in this union is the enemy.”
About more than just the faces you recognize on film and TV
Actors that make millions of dollars for their roles in your favorite movies and television series might not be in a room at a Local entertainment union on a Monday night. Then again former Cosby Show star Malcolm-Jamal Warner was there on the front row. The strike affects all levels of talent regardless of their paychecks and bank accounts.
“The strike is not just about every well-known performer. It is about every background actor who uses their talents to bring depth to every performance,” said Dacia James-Lewis, a director, choreographer and SAG-AFTRA member who has worked on films such as “Dreamgirls” and “Coming 2 America,” to name a few. “I am proud of us for standing strong in solidarity. We are not here by choice, we are here by force. I stand here as a performer who crosses over into several categories.”
Some of the most watched and highest-grossing films of the past decade have been filmed in Georgia. A large portion of the “Black Panther” was filmed at Bouckaert Farm in Chattahoochee Hills. The “Ant Man and the Wasp” series was filmed largely in Buckhead and downtown and the popular television series “Stranger Things” was filmed at a studio south of Atlanta.
The final season of “Stranger Things” has been on hold due to the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) strike that began on May 2. A lot of the writers and crew on that show live in Atlanta.
Actress Michelle Hurd had recently done some work in Atlanta and showered the city’s acting community for always making her feel at home. Hurd is currently serving as National Vice President of SAG-AFTRA Los Angeles Local.
A member of SAG-AFTRA, Hurd showed her solidarity to the strike efforts and to IATSE Local 479, an entertainment labor union that allowed SAG-AFTRA to use its hall for the meeting Monday night via Zoom.
“We are the working class actors. We are the labor and we are on the right side of history,” she said. “I’m fighting to make sure we have that respect, that common courtesy.”
Hurd, best known for television series roles as Raffi Musiker on “Star Trek: Picard” and Ellen “Shepherd” Briggs on “Blindspot,” spoke about the need for equity on the hair and makeup side of the business. She shared stories of having to get to set hours earlier than her call time because there aren’t always hairdressers that fully understand how to do Black hair.
Other actors were in attendance and spoke in support of the union and the strike. Many spoke of standing with the strike no matter how long it takes. The office park where the rally took place remained crowded long after the rally ended. The film and television industry brought many people to Atlanta for work and now that work is on hold.