SAG-AFTRA bosses behind ongoing strike include Carrie Fisher’s half-sister and woman with single 1983 IMDB credit

The bitter battle over streaming rights in Hollywood saw the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists hit the picket lines last week alongside the writer’s union. 

Three years after the pandemic brought Hollywood to a standstill, the film and TV industry has again ground to a halt. This time, though, the industry is engaged in a bitter battle over how streaming has upended entertainment’s economics.  

The group leading the revolt against the major studios is a collection of working actors and career union activists who were largely elected to leadership positions in SAG in October 2021. 

The union’s leader Fran Drescher faced criticism early on after she was pictured with Kim Kardashian while on a junket for luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana in Italy as the strike looked set to begin in the US. 

A SAG representative and Drescher, 65, later defended the picture by saying she was working in her role as an ambassador for the brand at the time the photograph was taken. 

And now has taken a look at the other union bosses who’ve successfully brought Hollywood to its knees…

SECRETARY-TREASURER: Carrie Fisher’s half-sister, known for low-cut tops and a friendship with Ellen 20 years ago  

One of SAG’s most powerful and prominent figures is Joely Fisher, half-sister of the late Carrie Fisher, who serves as Secretary-Treasurer.

Joely and Carrie share the same father, singer Eddie Fisher. Joely was raised by actress Connie Stevens and grew up in Beverly Hills, attending Emerson College in Boston as well as the University of Paris.  

Joely was elected to the national board of the union despite being a member of a rival faction to Fran Drescher’s Unite for Strength group. Deadline reported that Joely was leader of the MembershipFirst group and defeated Drescher-backed Anthony Rapp for the role. 

In terms of acting, Joely is best known of her role as Ellen DeGeneres’ side kick on the sitcom Ellen, which ran between 1994 and 1998. 

Since then, her performances have been limited to one-offs in shows such as Modern Family and Last Man Standing. The 55-year-old also has a penchant for wearing very low-cut tops to Hollywood events. 

Despite being in opposition to Drescher, Joely voted to strike along with her internal rivals. 

At the time of her election, Joely wrote on Instagram that she sought to ‘form an alliance’ with Drescher. 

‘We are from opposing parties in only the eyes of the few. In reality, we are alike in that we are fierce , passionate, talented, dedicated, selfless women who have incredible resumes in the entertainment industry and in our activism,’ she wrote.

In the same post, Joely said that she would fight for ‘inclusivity’ and ‘healthcare’ among her priorities. 

Carrie Fisher’s half-sister Joely Fisher, 55

Fisher, pictured in March 2023, is known for her penchant for revealing outfits

Fisher, pictured in March 2023, is known for her penchant for revealing outfits 

VICE PRESIDENT, SMALL LOCALS: A Dallas-based activist who has one credit on IMDb, a 1983 appearance on… Dallas 

Another activist in the union, Suzanne Burkhead, is a Dallas-based actress who counts one appearance on her IMDb page, a 1983 performance in Dallas. 

According to her LinkedIn page, Burkhead has been a member of SAG’s board since 2000.  

On July 18, she posted a video showing protesters outside of Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank. 

Suzanne Burkhead serves as vice president of small locals at SAG-AFTRA. She has a single acting credit on her IMDb resume - a role in a single episode of Dallas broadcast in 1983

Suzanne Burkhead serves as vice president of small locals at SAG-AFTRA. She has a single acting credit on her IMDb resume – a role in a single episode of Dallas broadcast in 1983

VICE PRESIDENT, LOS ANGELES: The ‘working class’ actress who attended a private high school in New York and studied at the National Theatre in London 

Also elected in 2021’s elections was actress Michelle Hurd, who was voted in as the vice president representing Los Angeles-based actors.

Hurd is best known for her two-season stint, in the first two seasons, of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. It’s reported that she left the hit show by choice because she felt that her character was being underutilized. 

Speaking about the strikes this week, Hurd said that the issue was not ‘whiny elitist actors, you know, screaming for more money for their yachts,’ reports The Wrap. 

‘We are working class people, we’re all journeymen actors,’ Hurd, 56, the daughter of actor Hugh Hurd and clinical psychologist Dr. Merilyn Hurd, said. 

‘Think about all the actors that you see on TV, that you don’t know their names, but you are comforted every time you see them. Those are working class actors. So I would say, you know, do your research, amplify support, make noise,’ she added. 

Prior to going into acting, Hurd attended the private St. Anne’s School in Brooklyn, New York, as well as Boston University and London’s National Theatre. 

Michelle Hurd represents LA-based actors. She's best known for a role in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Michelle Hurd represents LA-based actors. She’s best known for a role in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit 

EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT: The self-proclaimed Social Justice Warrior and son of powerful Colorado lawmaker 

Drescher’s second-in-command is Colorado-native Ben Whitehair, 37, who has made a series of one-off appearances in major TV shows including CSI: Miami and Better Call Saul. 

Whitehair was elected to the role of executive vice president in October 2021 and was referred to as a ‘staunch supporter’ of Drescher’s presidency by Deadline at the time. 

According to an online profile, Whitehair is a native of Littleton, Colorado, and got his start in a regional Toyota car commercial. 

In addition to his acting career, Whitehair has other business interests including his actor’s resource website, Working.Actor, and a digital marketing company named TSMA Consulting. 

In that profile, Whitehair was asked how he defined ‘success.’

‘Success is really about, ‘Ultimately, am I happy and living my values?’ And for me, personally, my core mission statement is to be a champion for social change through art and business,’ Whitehair answered. 

Just prior to the recent strike action, Whitehair was featured in a Los Angeles Times article in which it said that he was driven by ‘social justice.’ 

Whitehair went on to tell that he grew-up as a ‘homeschooled cowboy’ in rural Colorado.  

His father, J. Gregory Whitehair, is a high-ranking member of the liberal Colorado Attorney General’s office under Phil Weiser. Prior to joining the liberal office, Gregory Whitehair worked in the private sector as an intellectual property litigator in Denver. 

This month, a Colorado Springs Gazette columnist described Weiser’s office as ‘consistently advancing expansive governmental power over individual liberties.’

Ben Whitehair bagged a series of small roles in TV shows including Better Call Saul. He's now the second most-powerful person at SAG-AFTRA, after President Fran Drescher (pictured next to him)

Ben Whitehair bagged a series of small roles in TV shows including Better Call Saul. He’s now the second most-powerful person at SAG-AFTRA, after President Fran Drescher (pictured next to him)

VICE PRESIDENT: ACTORS/PERFORMERS A 53-year-old actor who has appeared in A-list movies as Bartender and Hotel Waiter

In 2021, William Charlton was elected to the role of representative of actors and performer. 

On his website, Charlton says that he has been involved in negotiating committees on behalf of the union since 2011.  

Charlton has made a series of one-off performances in TV shows including Quantum Leap, the reboot, SWAT, Days of Our Lives and had a four episode arc on General Hospital. 

He has appeared in movies such as The Rum Diary, playing Hotel Waiter, Flags of Our Fathers, playing Bartender, and Changeling, playing Prison Guard. 

Executives in Hollywood are showing no sign of backing down. 

‘We’ve talked about disruptive forces on this business and all the challenges we’re facing, the recovery from COVID which is ongoing. It’s not completely back,’ Disney CEO Bob Iger said Thursday. ‘This is the worst time in the world to add to that disruption.’

Though many of the demands of SAG-AFTRA and the WGA are longstanding, much of the current dispute gathered force in the helter-skelter days of the pandemic. 

A digital land rush to streaming ensued, as studios, in many cases, hurried to craft their Netflix competitors. Subscriber growth became the top priority.

Rahul Telang, a Carnegie Mellon University professor and co-author of the book ‘Streaming, Sharing, Stealing: Big Data and the Future of Entertainment,’ says an entire era of change was condensed into two years.

‘What is happening right now was bound to happen. With streaming, the whole business got disrupted,’ says Telang. 

William Charlton serves as SAG-AFTRA's vice president of actors and performers

William Charlton serves as SAG-AFTRA’s vice president of actors and performers 

‘So naturally, they’re complaining, ‘We need our fair share.’ But how do you decide what’s a fair share? There has to be a transparency about where the money is coming from and where it’s going. Until this gets resolved, this issue will keep coming up.’

The last time screen actors and writers went on strike simultaneously, in 1960, the guilds established royalty (later residual) payments for replays of films and TV episodes, among other landmark protections. If that strike reckoned with the dawn of television, this one does much the same for the streaming era.

But streaming, especially when companies carefully guard audience numbers, offers no easy metric like box office or TV ratings to establish residuals — long a foundational part of how writers and actors make a living. SAG-AFTRA is seeking a small percentage of subscriber revenue, with data measured by a third party, Parrot Analytics. 

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates on behalf of the studios, hasn’t agreed to that but says the studios have offered actors ‘historic pay and residual increases,’ along with pension contributions and other protections.

Meanwhile, actors are sharing images of their paltry residual payments for streaming hits. Kimiko Glenn of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black’ posted a clip of residual payments totaling $27.50.

‘You used to be able to work on a broadcast show, one show and you’re good for the year because of the residuals,’ said actor Nachayka Vanterpool on the picket lines. 

‘And then you have streaming coming along and you got 20 cent residual checks. That impacts you.’

Increasingly, it’s looking like everyone lost in the so-called streaming wars that went into hyperdrive under COVID-19. Since Wall Street last year began souring on subscription numbers being the be-all-end-all, most media companies have suffered stock declines. Wall Street’s message turned to: Show us the profits.