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SAG-AFTRA and Hollywood studios reach deal to end strike

SAG-AFTRA, the union representing tens of thousands of striking actors, announced a breakthrough deal with Hollywood studios Wednesday night. If fully approved, the contract would bring an end to labor disputes that have crippled the U.S. entertainment industry since May.

The union’s TV/Theatrical Committee approved the tentative agreement Wednesday with a unanimous vote, according to a statement from Pamela Greenwalt, chief communications and marketing officer for the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The strike will officially end at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, the union said.

Details of the agreement were not immediately clear. The entire proposed contract will be made public on Friday, if SAG’s leadership signs off on the deal.

Performers in the union would then vote on the contract, and presumably return to their jobs. The actors would join more than 10,000 unionized writers who ended a parallel strike in September — and conclude one of the longest and broadest work stoppages in Hollywood history.

A massive swath of TV and movie productions has been disrupted, halted or canceled since early May, when the Writers Guild of America called a strike after failing to agree on a new contract with the studios.

The crisis dramatically escalated in mid-July, when SAG actors walked out, too. Members of both unions overwhelmingly supported the strikes, which left studios without most screenwriters and a limited number of performers to put on camera.

Although many reality shows and some independent projects were able to continue production, the big studios were forced to delay numerous anticipated blockbusters including “Spider-Man: Beyond the Spider-Verse,” “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” “Dune: Part Two” and “Gladiator 2,” as well as such hit shows such as “Abbott Elementary,” “Euphoria,” “Stranger Things” and “Yellowjackets.”

University of Southern California historian and Hollywood labor expert Steven J. Ross told The Washington Post this summer that this was “an existential strike.”

Actors and writers had gone on strike separately many times, but their unions had not joined forces in a walkout since 1960, when workers demanded a bigger cut of the growing market for TV broadcasts, among other transformative issues.

Technological and economic disruptions united a wide range of workers against the studios this time around, too. “Shame on them. They stand on the wrong side of history,” Fran Drescher, president of SAG-AFTRA, declared upon calling the actors strike in July.

The unions’ biggest demands included more compensation when their work is streamed on such platforms as Netflix, Apple and Amazon. Under streaming systems, Hollywood workers have generally earned far smaller residual payments than they did under older models, such as with TV reruns or physical movie rentals. About 80 percent of SAG-AFTRA members make less than $27,000 annually, the union said, while some studio chiefs make more than $100 million a year.

Rapidly advancing artificial intelligence software was another central and highly divisive issue. Writers have been concerned that studios will partially replace them with the technology behind popular chatbots like ChatGPT, and many actors have feared having their likeness digitized and simulated without compensation or consent.

Negotiators were locked in a stalemate for much of the summer and fall, with studio executives reportedly betting that the unions’ resolve would wane as their workers went months without pay. That didn’t happen. Thousands of SAG-AFTRA members signed an open letter to their negotiators in late October, declaring “we would rather stay on strike than take a bad deal.”

Nervousness grew among some Hollywood executives. Besides shutting down production lots, the strike rules barred actors from promoting their projects at film festivals, conventions and awards shows, greatly hindering studios’ ability to market the shows and films they had in their pocket. SAG-AFTRA negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland told The Post at one point in the strike that by prohibiting the promotion of struck work, the union was using “every bit of leverage we have.”

Those pressures helped bring studio chiefs such as Bob Iger of Disney, Donna Langley of NBCUniversal, Ted Sarandos of Netflix and David Zaslav of Warner Bros. to the negotiating tables, and the list of concessions they offered the unions grew over several weeks of intermittent meetings.

The WGA and studios announced a breakthrough in late September. Days later, writers returned to work with a new contract that guaranteed them better pay, minimum staffing requirements and protections against the encroachment of AI.

That agreement sparked hopes that the actors and studios could soon reach a deal, too. After months without significant talks, negotiators for SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP began meeting again shortly after the writers strike ended.

“Hopefully, a precedent has been established, the actors can get a fair deal, as well, and we can all get back to work very soon,” WGA member Michael Jamin (“King of the Hill,” “Just Shoot Me”), told The Post in September.

Did the actors’ and writers’ strikes solve Hollywood’s problems? (Video: Lindsey Sitz/The Washington Post, Photo: Philip Cheung/The Washington Post)

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