SAG-AFTRA’s Restrictive ‘Promotion’ Rules Are a Strategic Mistake

The guidance to SAG-AFTRA members barring them from talking about their roles in movies or series undercuts the pressure the public could put on the AMPTP.

Joshua M. Patton

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SAG-AFTRA on Strike! With a white figure above the lettering against a black background
Image via the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists

Just days after the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists called their strike, confusion broke out. The reasons for the strike are evident. Both actors and members of the Writers Guild of America are struggling to earn a living at a time when there is more television and movie production than ever before. However, journalists and critics in print and video stumbled over the union’s guidance about “promoting” struck work. Reviewers especially wondered if by continuing to do their jobs, they were crossing a virtual picket line. Similarly, SAG-AFTRA’s most prominent members appearing at fan events or on podcasts are unable to discuss their work as actors. While pausing direct, contracted promotional activities with the rest of struck work makes perfect sense, the effective “gag order” on SAG-AFTRA members prevents them from making the best public case about why actors’ work has both monetary and cultural value.

The confusion stems, in part, from a general ignorance of how promoting a work is a part of an actor’s job. Obviously, interviews on radio shows, podcasts and talk shows are promotional work. Hosts often joke about “the plugs,” meaning the studio-mandated statements meant to encourage people to watch a show or film. Similarly, big panels at fan events like San Diego Comic-Con are also marketing events, paid for on the studio’s dime. These appearances are, by literal definition, struck work. However, not every interview or convention appearance is, primarily, a promotional tool for a studio. Similarly, reviews, video essays, and features (like those I write for CBR!) are also not, primarily, promotion. It would be disingenuous to suggest that “earned media” isn’t valuable to studios selling a product. However, the product just happens to be creative labor, which provides value beyond profits and growth for shareholders. Value that’s worth talking about.

Recently, two actors who played DC Comics heroes have run afoul of this particular guideline. Appearing at fan…

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Joshua M. Patton

Entertainment, culture, politics, essays & lots of Star Wars. Bylines: Comic Years, CBR. Like my work? Buy me a coffee: https://ko-fi.com/O5O0GR