Dispatches From The Picket Lines – “We Are Here With You ’Til The Very End,” Writers Tell Actors At AAPI-Themed Rally In Manhattan

It was everything everywhere all at once Thursday in New York City: Striking actors getting ready for contract talks were joined by writers who have just wrapped up theirs at a rally in Manhattan that also highlighted Asian American Pacific Islander culture in film and television. 

On the eve of the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrated by Asian communities worldwide, about 200 people gathered outside the Manhattan offices of Warner Bros. Discovery for pickets and speeches that marked the official end of one strike against the major studios and the continuation of another whose end might be in sight. 

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Speakers including Joel de la Fuente of Hemlock Grove, Perry Yung of The Knick, Celia Au of Wu Assassins and Ivory Aquino of When We Rise hailed the growing visibility of Asian-Americans onscreen and said that their strike demands — including sustainable wages and limits on the use of artificial intelligence in productions — are vital to keeping Asian-American characters and stories in front of audiences. 

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Yung, in his turn with a plastic megaphone shared by the speakers, drew a line of progress from his early days as an actor — “There was nothing for me to audition for,” he said — to the explosion of creativity seen in such projects as Crazy Rich Asians and reigning Best Picture Oscar winner Everything Everywhere All at Once, a time-tripping adventure with Asian-American talent in front of and behind the camera. 

Everywhere All at Once is just the beginning to show them that we are here, we’ve been here, and we are here to stay,” Yung said to cheers.

De la Fuente said that his younger self would have been “proud” to learn back in 1991 — when he got his SAG-AFTRA card — that in 2023 he would be “walking around and seeing such a vibrant, engaged, diverse membership.”

He also emphasized that the strike is not over for actors.

“We are still in the middle of our story,” he said, “and as all SAG-AFTRA members will tell you, you do not play the end of the scene when you are still in the middle of the scene.”

Asian-American actors Ronny Chieng, James Tam, Eric Elizaga, Sibyl Santiago and Nick Sakai were also on a picket line that moved to drumbeats and chant. Also spotted: actors Billy Crudup, Rosemary Harris, Kathryn Erbe, Nadia Dajani and Michael Cyril Creighton. 

Ezra Knight, newly re-elected as president of SAG-AFTRA’s New York chapter, introduced himself to the crowd as “a member of the negotiating committee for this upcoming contract that we’re about to nail and smash.”

Knight said the diversity in evidence at the rally was a SAG-AFTRA “superpower” at a moment when “the world is watching” the entire labor movement. 

Knight handed the megaphone to Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, newly elected president of the Writers Guild of America East, who addressed a crowd dotted with writers who will begin voting Monday on whether to ratify their contract — the same day that SAG-AFTRA resumes its own talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. 

Takeuchi Cullen said that SAG-AFTRA going on strike two months into the writers walkout “absolutely changed the game for us” and helped writers win an agreement that she called “exceptional.” 

Screenwriter and playwright David Henry Hwang —  who also addressed picketers — agreed, telling Deadline in an interview that the new WGA contract is “excellent” and was possible because writers and actors both “stayed united.”

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“I think that we got everything that we really, really wanted,” Takeuchi Cullen said of the new deal covering pay, staffing and AI. “We didn’t get everything, and you guys won’t, either, but I think you’re going to get most of it.” 

Takeuchi Cullen also promised: “We are here with you ’til the very end. The writers support the actors. We cannot do it without you.”

Santiago, who emceed the rally along with Sakai, told Deadline that she hopes so — and wants to see even more writers on the actors’ picket lines “because we walked a lot with them.”

In separate interviews with Deadline, Knight and Takeuchi Cullen both said that the WGA deal has created “momentum” for the actors heading into their talks.

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“I think that SAG-AFTRA is going to go into that room on Monday and I think they’re going to demand everything that they need,” Takeuchi Cullen told Deadline. “And I think the studios are going to give it to them. I think there is more power on the side of labor.” 

Knight told Deadline that while actors’ and writers’ demands aren’t identical, the WGA contract has helped to push the studios back to the negotiating table more quickly and “with more of an open mind.”

“Because we really want to get back to work,” he added. 

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Once that happens, Chieng told Deadline, it won’t take long for production to ramp up across the industry. 

“I don’t mean this in a flippant way, but everyone is such a professional, people are used to starting and stopping on a dime,” he said.

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