Two unions representing actors and media professionals held a rally on Saturday outside the Toronto headquarters of Amazon and Apple, to highlight the plight of their members in long-running labour disputes.
The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television and Radio Artists (ACTRA) is seeking higher pay, protections and benefits for its members amid fractious talks to renew the National Commercial Agreement with the Institute of Canadian Agencies (ICA). Members of the Screen Actors Guild–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) have been striking for better pay and protection from the use of artificial intelligence (AI), among other things.
ACTRA president Eleanor Noble said her union has been locked out of its commercial jurisdiction by Canadian advertisers for "an unconscionable 501 days," while SAG-AFTRA has been on strike for 58 days.
"We are in our lockout and you are in your strike because of corporate greed. Corporate greed, making billions of dollars off the backs of performers," Noble said.
"We have said it time and time again — enough is enough."
Noble said she graduated from theatre school and started out as an actor believing she had a right to earn a living in a career that she studied for, just like anybody else.
"What I didn't realize was that the average income of an actor was way below the poverty line, and I'm talking about those performers you see in movies, on TV series, and in commercials that aren't household names," she said.
"Those are the actors and performers across North America, around North America, that are earning below the poverty line, and this is a big fight for them."
ACTRA and ICA have been unable to renegotiate a deal that's set the rules for using actors in ads since the 1960s.
Eventually the bigger stars will start to get replaced by these new things.- Patricia Arquette, Oscar-winning American actress
Though mediated negotiations and hearings at the Ontario Labour Relations board are ongoing, actors say they've felt financial and career impacts as work opportunities have dwindled. The actors note that commercial work is vital for those trying to make a living in the industry in Canada.
Saturday's rally comes against the backdrop of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), usually a star-studded affair full of Hollywood A-listers. But with the ongoing Hollywood actors' and writers' strikes, this year's event has so far seen fewer stars in attendance. TIFF continues until Sept. 17.
The Toronto International Film Festival is here, but because of the ongoing Hollywood actors' and writers' strikes, it's going to look different than years past. Andrew Chang breaks down why fewer celebrities will be promoting their films, and the work going on behind the scenes to ensure there will still be some stars on the red carpet.
Oscar-winning American actress Patricia Arquette was among those at the rally.
"I think that this AI situation is really critical because first it will replace all of the background actors, then it's going to replace all of the character actors and then they're going to build up movie stars from scratch," Arquette said.
"Eventually the bigger stars will start to get replaced by these new things."
According to Arquette, allowing "our industry and our form of art go into the hands of AI" will result in "derivative movies that are stealing from the arts of real artists."
'Taking a stand'
In July, Hollywood actors joined Hollywood writers who went on strike in May after no deal was reached with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which negotiates on behalf of studios. It's the first time both unions have been on strike at the same time since 1960.
The stoppage has shuttered nearly all film and television production. Actors say the streaming revolution has altered pay in entertainment, stripping them of residuals and remaking working conditions. They are also seeking guardrails against the use of artificial intelligence, along with increases to the union's health-care and pension programs.
"So, here we are taking a stand at a very critical moment where we have to take a stand," Arquette said.
"I'm really proud of our union for taking a stand and I think we must take this stand. We have to do it for art [and] we have to do it for each other."
Members are energized, union says
Meanwhile, chief SAG-AFTRA negotiator, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said "the strike is going strong" and "members are absolutely energized."
His message to the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is that "it is way past time" for a settlement.
"They waited over 120 days before they started talking to the writers guild again. You need to get back to the table in good faith and actually make an effort to reach a fair deal for all the creators in the industry."