Oscars’ strikes tributes highlight solidarity, and the possible labor struggles to come

Members of the Oscars crew come out for a round of applause in appreciation for their support during the strike during the Oscars on Sunday, March 10, 2024, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Members of the Oscars crew come out for a round of applause in appreciation for their support during the strike during the Oscars on Sunday, March 10, 2024, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Hollywood has been able to put on a show of happiness and something akin to normalcy as it struggles to shake off the effects of the dual strikes and one of the most tumultuous years in industry history.

Yet Sunday’s Academy Awards didn’t sidestep the labor strife that left its screenwriters and actors out of work for much of 2023. The acknowledgment — prominent amid muted acknowledgment of the strikes during other awards shows this season — comes as behind-the-scenes crews could be next to challenge studios, and video game actors may be weeks from their own strike.

In front of an enormous global audience, Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel devoted part of his opening monologue toward vowing to union members and those working behind the scenes that Hollywood’s stars would stand with them — repayment for those workers supporting actors during the strike that brought much of the entertainment industry to a standstill last year.

“We fully support them, obviously, as they did us,” said Fran Drescher, the president of the actors guild, told The Associated Press on the Oscars red carpet.

Kimmel took the opportunity to shine an even bigger light on the matter.

“For five months, this group of writers, actors, directors, the people who actually make the films said ‘We will not accept a deal’ … well, not the directors, you guys folded immediately,” Kimmel said during the show, mixing a bit of humor in. “But the rest of us said we will not accept a deal without protections against artificial intelligence.”

That’s when he thanked the workers in Hollywood now embroiled in a labor fight of their own, bringing dozens of truck drivers, lighting workers, gaffers, grips and more onto the stage as a thank-you.

“Thank you for standing with us,” Kimmel said. “And also, we want you to know that in your upcoming negotiations, we will stand with you too.”

There was a time when the Academy Awards would have been the last place for an expression of solidarity like Kimmel’s. The guilds in the current labor struggles formed in the 1930s in large part because of fears that the newly founded Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would become a cartel of studios used to keep pay low. Actors, directors, writers and other workers would eventually exert greater control over the film academy, with threats to boycott the Oscars among their tools.

The same fears of being replaced by artificial intelligence that fed the actors and writers strikes may lead to a strike of video game actors, who are also represented by SAG-AFTRA.

Speaking at a panel at SXSW Film & TV Festival the day before the Oscars, SAG-AFTRA executive director and chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said a strike could be four to six weeks away.

“It is, at this point, at least 50/50, if not more likely, that we end up going on strike,” Crabtree-Ireland said, “because of the inability to get past these basic AI issues.”

Actors who work on video games range from voice performers to stunt performers. Their long-term contract expired more than a year ago, and there has been little progress in months of talks. In September, the game actors overwhelmingly gave their leaders the authority to call a strike against the collective of gaming companies that hire them. They last walked off the job for six months in 2016 and 2017.

The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees — whose members include cinematographers, camera operators, set designers, carpenters, hair and makeup artists and many others — plans to resume talks next week with the Hollywood studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the same group actors and writers negotiate with.

The talks on pay hikes and protections against overwork, which began last week, will affect about 50,000 workers in the Los Angeles area, IATSE said.

Three years ago, the talks reached the edge of a strike before the current contract was reached. That turned out to be a harbinger of the massive disruption that came last year.

“I think that this is a very dynamic year because everybody’s impacted by the significant changes that have occurred in our industry, especially AI,” Drescher said. “It’s a left jab and a right hook, because the AMPTP is getting it from all sides. But it’s long overdue.”

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Reynolds reported from Miami.

AP Business

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