Steps from TIFF, striking actors, writers rally at Canadian offices for Apple, Amazon

By Noel Ransome, The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Film and TV star Patricia Arquette joined dozens of actors and writers who gathered Saturday outside the Canadian headquarters of Amazon and Apple to support ongoing labour protests.

Members of Canadian and U.S. performers unions rallied just blocks from marquee venues hosting the Toronto International Film Festival to call for job protections and better compensation.

Arquette, who is at TIFF with her directorial debut, “Gonzo Girl,” and was set to receive a festival Tribute Award on Sunday, spent about 10 minutes speaking to the crowd about concerns including the use of artificial intelligence.

“If we let our industry, our form of art go into the hands of AI, all we’re going to have is giant, mega, corporate movies,” Arquette said to demonstrators waving placards declaring, “Respect the performers.”

“We’re going to have derivative movies that are stealing from the art of real artists and it’s not right.” 

Aside from directors and producers, TIFF premieres have been largely devoid of Hollywood A-listers as strike rules prevent unionized actors from promoting projects, although some independent productions have been allowed to court publicity.

The Alliance of Canadian Cinema Television Radio Artists (ACTRA), the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and the Writers Guild of America (WGA) are each embroiled in contract woes.

SAG-AFTRA’s chief negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland said global support is essential to securing better treatment of actors and writers. He called ACTRA one of SAG’s “closest sibling unions,” along with AFTRA and the British trade union Equity.

“That support is so essential because these are multinational companies and the fact they know that other performers around the world are going to stand up for the same principles as us; there’s nowhere to flee to get away from treating their workers unfairly,” said Crabtree-Ireland, SAG-AFTRA’s national executive director.

“It’s really hard for workers in this industry, not only in the United States but around the world because it’s having a huge impact but workers understand that we’re fighting for something that is existential.” 

The WGA walked off the job May 2 and was joined by SAG-AFTRA on July 14. Each are seeking new agreements with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Common demands include better pay, guardrails around the use of AI and more transparency from streaming services amid a rapidly evolving entertainment industry.

Amazon and Apple both operate TV streaming services and are among the members of the AMPTP.

ACTRA has been embroiled in a dispute with the Institute of Canadian Agencies since their agreement expired more than a year ago. the ICA represents Canadian advertising, marketing, media and public relations agencies.

ACTRA is seeking higher pay, protections and benefits for about 9,000 commercial actors it represents.

Toronto-based ACTRA member Dewey Stewart said he’s fighting for higher wages and greater appreciation of commercial actors. 

ACTRA president Eleanor Noble said the income of an actor is well below what many would expect, particularly for the majority who are not considered A-listers.

“The average income of an actor is well 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,” said Noble. 

“That’s absolutely unacceptable.” 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 9, 2023.

Noel Ransome, The Canadian Press

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