SAG-AFTRA waivers under scrutiny as Viola Davis says filming movie wouldn’t ‘be appropriate’

Viola Davis smiling in a white fuzzy dress and sparkly earrings.
Viola Davis has issued a statement after SAG-AFTRA granted her film “G20” permission to shoot during the strike.
(Joel C Ryan / Invision / Associated Press)
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Viola Davis says she is opposed to filming her next movie amid the simmering actors’ and writers’ labor strikes — even though she has SAG-AFTRA’s blessing to do so.

The Oscar-winning actor’s move comes amid scrutiny over SAG-AFTRA’s decision to exempt some productions from the strike that are not affiliated with any major studios or streaming platforms. The dispensations have sparked questions in recent days.

Davis released a statement this weekend after her upcoming action-thriller “G20” was among dozens of independent projects granted waivers by the guild to move forward during the strike. Davis is attached to produce and star in the picture, which is partially backed by her company, JuVee Productions.


“I love this movie, but I do not feel that it would be appropriate for this production to move forward during the strike,” Davis said in a statement provided Sunday to the Los Angeles Times.

“I appreciate that the producers on the project agree with this decision. JuVee Productions and I stand in solidarity with actors, SAG/AFTRA and the WGA.”

Because Davis is such a vital part of the project, the current status of “G20” is unclear. When asked whether this means the production will shut down entirely until the strikes are over, Davis’ representative declined to comment further.

Though much of Hollywood has come to a standstill amid the writers’ and actors’ strikes, more than 40 productions that have signed interim agreements with SAG-AFTRA — agreements that include the terms of employment desired by the guild — have been granted permission to continue shooting during the mass work stoppage. But whether actors are crossing a picket line by participating in those productions has become a point of contention in the industry.

SAG-AFTRA objects to the term “waiver” being used in connection with the projects that are being allowed to proceed, focusing instead on the fact that interim agreements have been signed.

SAG-AFTRA is allowing a select number of films and shows to keep filming amid the actors’ strike. Titles include two A24 movies and another by Mel Gibson.

July 19, 2023

Davis is not the only famous actor to speak out after SAG-AFTRA decided to exempt from the strike select projects that are not affiliated with any major studios or streaming platforms that make up the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. (Although “G20” is set to be distributed by Amazon Studios — which is part of the AMPTP — SAG-AFTRA gave it a pass because no members of the AMPTP are producing it, according to Deadline.)


Under the terms of the interim agreements, said projects are required to abide by the guidelines SAG-AFTRA has presented to the AMPTP in bargaining. The guild is fighting for higher wages, greater shares of revenue generated by streaming hits and limitations on the use of artificial intelligence, among other benefits and protections. The exempt productions must operate under these terms until the union and the AMPTP agree on and ratify a new contract.

In a message to members posted online Sunday, the union defended the agreements and called them a “vital part” of its strategic approach to the negotiations.

Union leaders noted that these agreements include “reasonable and appropriate” contract terms and mainly involve projects that are not affiliated with the companies that belong to the AMPTP. Further, they said, these projects won’t be distributed on AMPTP platforms until an industrywide agreement is reached.

“This Interim Agreement was created for several reasons, all of which are aimed at protecting the interests of our members, helping them successfully navigate the strike and demonstrating to the AMPTP that other producers are eager to work with our members under these terms,” SAG-AFTRA said.

In an Instagram video posted on Friday, actor and comedian Sarah Silverman said she was “pissed off” at the idea of movie stars continuing to work on independent projects when they “know the goal is to sell them to streaming” giants. She accused her peers of “scabbing” by working on those titles — SAG-AFTRA exemptions be damned.

SAG-AFTRA’s national board on Thursday approved a strike action after negotiations with the major studios failed to reach an agreement on a new film and TV contract.

July 13, 2023

“I got offered an indie movie. I f— said no. And so did a bunch of my friends. And now some of my friends are saying yes, and I’m really pissed. Please explain to me why I shouldn’t be angry, because people are ... sacrificing their livelihood for this cause. It’s called union strong. ... We should see every movie star out there striking along.”


In a follow-up video, Silverman said she met with SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher and Executive Director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, who explained the union’s justification for granting the waivers. According to Silverman, SAG-AFTRA’s position is that — by allowing certain productions to move forward under its “ideal” working conditions — the union can prove to the AMPTP that such conditions are reasonable.

The actors’ union published its proposals, with what it says were the counterproposals from Hollywood studios. The AMPTP accused SAG-AFTRA of mischaracterizing the talks.

July 18, 2023

After hearing the SAG-AFTRA leaders out, Silverman doubled down on her stance.

“This cause is a work stoppage,” Silverman said. “That’s our power.”

“On the other ... hand, I’m so happy that at least a whole bunch of crew members are going to be able to work on narrative projects,” Silverman added, acknowledging that the waivers are “a release valve for a whole bunch of people who have been paying a ... price” for the strikes.

Silverman also questioned whether all of the exempt projects are truly independent, saying some productions carry a “real stink of loophole-iness.” The Times has reached out to SAG-AFTRA for comment.

George R.R. Martin explains why HBO is still filming Season 2 of ‘House of the Dragon’ amid writers’ and actors’ strikes. He gave a book-progress update too.

July 24, 2023

Several other high-profile productions — including “Death of a Unicorn” and “Mother Mary” from Oscar-winning studio A24 and Mel Gibson’s “Flight Risk,” which is set to be distributed by Lionsgate — have received waivers from SAG-AFTRA.

While the waivers have certainly sparked debate among SAG-AFTRA members — many of whom voiced their opinions under Silverman’s Instagram posts — Silverman stated for the record that she is “extremely comfortable agreeing to disagree” while “working together, picketing and telling the AMPTP that they can ... kick rocks.”

“The truth is, we all want the same thing,” she said.

“We want a swift end to this strike. We want to get back to work having won crucial new benefits. So whichever side of this particular issue you fall on, we can’t let disagreeing on it weaken our resolve.”


Times staff writers Jonah Valdez and Anousha Sakoui contributed to this report.