More News:

July 20, 2023

'Abbott Elementary' stars condemn studio greed at SAG rally in Philly

Sheryl Lee Ralph and Lisa Ann Walter spoke at the Screen Actors Guild's Love Park event alongside 'Green Mile' actor David Morse and politicians

Protests Labor
Sheryl Lee Ralph Lisa Ann Walter Kristin Hunt/for PhillyVoice

'Abbott Elementary' stars Sheryl Lee Ralph and Lisa Ann Walter were two of the many speakers at a SAG rally in Love Park on Thursday afternoon. Ralph's husband, state Sen. Vincent Hughes, also spoke.

A stand-in for Sally Field, an actor on "The Wire" and a few locally loved sitcom stars rallied in Love Park on Thursday in support of the Screen Actors Guild.

The actors' union, which has been on strike since last Friday, says it was unable to reach a fair agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers before its current contract expired. The Writers Guild of America has also been on strike since May, marking the first dual strike for the trade unions since 1960.

In fiery speeches delivered under the blazing July sun, Philadelphia-based actors and Hollywood celebrities called on studio executives to offer better wages and protections for the 160,000 performers represented by SAG. Among the speakers were "Abbott Elementary" stars Sheryl Lee Ralph and Lisa Ann Walter, "Green Mile" actor David Morse, "The Wire" actor Brian Anthony Wilson, state Sen. Vincent Hughes and state Rep. Tarik Khan, who worked as an actor prior to entering politics. Members of the WGA and Philadelphia Federation of Teachers also attended in a show of solidarity.

The speakers argued that current wages were not high enough to meet 2023 standards of living. SAG says 87% of its members do not make at least $26,000 a year, the threshold to qualify for health care. Leah Cevoli, a bicoastal actor born and raised in Philly, said she has hit that salary just three times since 2005.

"Please don't think that this strike, this SAG-AFTRA strong strike, this WGA writers strike, is about anything more than real people demanding real contracts," said Ralph, who is on the SAG negotiating committee. "Demanding real compensation. Demanding the respect that all human beings working around the world demand."

Walter shared stories of browsing 99-cent stores and going to bakeries for day-old bread to feed her four children in Los Angeles. She accused studios of "cooking the books" to underreport profits and avoid raising wages. 

"We all said, fine, if you don't make money, we won't," Walter told the crowd. "But Netflix just put 5.9 million more subscribers in their book when they changed their password laws. So you tell me Philadelphia, are they making any revenue?"

Lisa Ann Walter speaks at a SAG rally in Love ParkKristin Hunt/for PhillyVoice

Lisa Ann Walter of 'Abbott Elementary' recalled past struggles to make ends meet as a working actor.

Morse, a longtime Chestnut Hill resident, accused studios of "wanting to make us poor, and make themselves richer." He pointed to decades of "excuses" for poor pay like home video, cable TV and now, he argues, artificial intelligence. Striking actors have emphasized particular concern over protections against AI, which they fear could be used to replicate their likenesses without additional compensation. SAG leadership claims one AMPTP proposal called for background actors to receive one day of pay to have their faces scanned and replicated in perpetuity on any project. The AMPTP has disputed this claim, saying the proposal would have allowed digital replication of the background actor for a single movie.

The speeches at Love Park wound down as Brian Anthony Wilson made his way to the podium on a cane. Wilson, a local legend who appeared as Detective Vernon Holley on five seasons of "The Wire" and has over 200 credits to his name, shared an emotional reunion with his two-time costar Morse and thanked filmmakers like M. Night Shyamalan for bringing work to Philadelphia.

Actor Brian Anthony Wilson hugs costar David MorseKristin Hunt/for PhillyVoice

Brian Anthony Wilson, a legendary Philly actor who appeared on “The Wire,” shared a hug with his two-time costar David Morse after speaking highly of the actor.

"I am on the lower end, as opposed to the Tom Cruises of the world," he said. "I will do background work to pay my bills. We're all in this together, my brethren, and I'm so proud to be a member of SAG-AFTRA."

Follow Kristin & PhillyVoice on Twitter: @kristin_hunt | @thePhillyVoice
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice
Have a news tip? Let us know.