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SAG/AFTRA strikes: Why should the fashion industry pay attention?

By Rachel Douglass


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Florence Pugh wearing Valentino at Oppenheimer's UK premiere. Credits: Getty Images, courtesy of Valentino.

It's been six days and counting since the cast of the highly anticipated motion picture Oppenheimer walked out of their UK premiere following the announcement that wider Hollywood would be joining the ongoing Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike. The highly publicised move sparked widespread discussions surrounding what exactly the strike is for and how it will impact not only the film industry, but those beyond.

In a press conference on July 13, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) announced that the organisations would be joining WGA’s cause, initially launched by the American screenwriters’ union in May 2023. The walkout was triggered after the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), an association representing large scale production and streaming services, failed to secure negotiations for a new contract regulating the work of WGA.

Now coming into its third month, the strike has had a ripple effect across the rest of Hollywood, ultimately seeping into the world of actors, who have now picked up their own swords after AMPTP also failed to cement a new contract with SAG-AFTRA. It marks the first time both actors and screenwriters have striked together since 1960, with some speculating that this walkout could even go on until Christmas.

What does the strike mean for SAG-AFTRA?

For actors participating, a set of rules have been outlined informing them of what they can and cannot do during this period. For example, work on commercials covered under a different SAG-AFTRA contract are able to go ahead, while projects for the Television Agreement, Special New Media Agreements and Low Budget Theatrical Agreements are forbidden. Actors are able to work on educational projects that aren’t for broadcast, as well as independent productions not affiliated with AMPTP, for which a waiver can be applied.

One area that has been a little blurry is SAG-AFTRA’s Influencer Agreement. A number of influencers are also included among the union’s members, yet their requirements slightly differ from actors. Influencers under the organisation must perform alone if they want to be considered as members, operating more as ad platforms for movie studios. SAG influencers are not able to create sponsored content or attend premieres during the strike, however they are allowed to fulfil contractual obligations made prior.

In the end, both SAG-AFTRA and WGA are demanding better pay and working conditions in a labour landscape that they believe is being threatened by the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). While the unions are demanding for AMPTP to be more transparent about how such technology will be integrated, there are also concerns about the lack of available jobs and the decline in royalty payments that are linked to show reruns.

What does the strike mean for fashion?

While some believe that the strike will cause a major standstill, others suggest that an under-the-covers approach could be more of the reality. According to sources for WWD, under the strike rules, actors are still able to participate in any commercial or fashion campaign, as well as do press for brands they are partnered with. The media outlet did note that actors are not allowed to discuss TV and film projects, yet this is still good news for fashion brands, many of which are set to host various events over the coming weeks, and can therefore count on actors’ attendance.

However, one sector of fashion that will be noticeably impacted is styling. As promotional activities come to a halt, a significant factor that will undoubtedly be missed are red carpets, where Hollywood celebrities typically sport the latest designer looks. One of the first events to potentially be impacted is that of the Venice Film Festival, set to take place in September and will likely play host to a lacklustre red carpet event.

In a statement to FashionUnited, New York-based fashion attorney, former model and SAG-AFTRA member, Kaitlin Puccio elaborated on how the Hollywood strike could further impact fashion. Puccio noted: “The powerbrokers in the fashion industry are closely watching this battle in Hollywood over AI because the same issues are at play in fashion. Brands and models are already negotiating over how to use AI to replicate a model’s likeness, and the fashion industry hasn’t adopted any clear rules for that.

“Models don’t have a union in the US to make these decisions for them. The strike by SAG-AFTRA will bring this issue top of mind for models. They will be more likely to say, ‘I don’t want to give up my rights to my likeness in perpetuity’ and that will be a positive development for the industry. That discussion is already happening in fashion. It’s just handled more quietly because there’s no union.

“In modelling, one argument for the use of AI is that it allows for greater diversity and inclusion. That is, companies can easily create models with varying body types and skin tones that still look good in their clothes. However, this only creates the appearance of diversity, while in reality excluding all humans equally.”

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