Strikes: A refusal to work that’s organised by a body of employees as a form of protest. They aren’t meant to be polite. They aren’t designed to be picnics. When workers strike, they demonstrate that they deserve more money, that when they stop, everything falls apart.
Sometimes, strikes even exist to mess with events like the Oscars.
Part One: Consequences
In 2023, the United States was rocked by two of the biggest entertainment strikes of all time. From Los Angeles to New York, scriptwriters from the Writers Guild of America (WGA) protested for more equitable salaries for 148 days straight. Meanwhile, members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) protested for 118 days straight.
Fortunately though, after many months on the picket lines, the Hollywood studio system conceded. The studios gave both writers and performers alike a series of historic pay rises. On September 27, the writers strike ended, and on November 9, the actors strike ended.
However, the studio’s slow response had some consequences. The fact that they took over 100 days to properly address worker demands has uprooted the 2023 and 2024 award season. It might have even prevented several films from becoming Academy Award frontrunners, being commended in a ceremony that will air 10 March, 2024.
Here’s why this is such a big deal.
Part Two: Oscar Season
Every year, Hollywood spends an exorbitant amount of money, time, and effort promoting its films. All of the studios do this in the hopes that their films will perform well at the box office. They also want their films to go on to receive both attention and noms during award season.
For those in the industry, award season is a year-round affair. While the bulk of major Oscar contenders will premiere in the latter half of the year, more recent years have seen films succeed by premiering earlier. It’s becoming more common for Academy beloved films to premiere at January’s Sundance Film Festival, March’s South by Southwest Festival (SXSW), or May’s Cannes Film Festival.
Just last year, A24’s Everything Everywhere All At Once managed to marathon the distance, maintaining its award season momentum from its SXSW premiere all the way through to scoring seven Academy Award wins. The key to such success, of course, is the ability to campaign.
According to Matthew Belloni, co-founder of Puck News and host of the entertainment podcast The Town, you cannot overstate how much is at stake during these promotion-based months.
“Getting to the top of mind during award season in awards voters is primary,” Belloni said in a recent episode of The Town. “That’s all you want during phase one of the campaign. You want people to see your damn movie.”
“You do anything that you can to get to the top of their mind. To click on the tile on the Academy Portal. To get them to pop in the DVD, if they’re still watching DVDs.”
However, the WGA strike and the SAG-AFTRA strike have hindered some films’ promotional periods. What’s more, while all the Oscar hopefuls of 2023 have been impacted by the strikes, Bradley Cooper’s Maestro is perhaps at the top of this list.
Part Three: Maestro
Written, directed, and starring Bradley Cooper, Maestro is a biopic about the composer Leonard Bernstein and his relationship with the actress Felicia Montealegre (Carey Mulligan). The film is Cooper’s directorial follow-up to 2018’s A Star Is Born, which managed to snag eight Academy Award nominations, including one for Best Picture.
In any other year, Maestro would likely be an Oscar frontrunner. However, during the writers strike and actors strike, it was against union rules for most artists to promote the films that they helped create. This meant that Cooper couldn’t do any talk shows, podcasts, or TV junkets.
Meanwhile, the director of Killers of the Flower Moon, Martin Scorsese, wasn’t bound by these rules. Because Scorsese didn’t star in his film, he was able to discuss it from the perspective of a director. Where Killers of the Flower Moon has had Scorsese doing press, joining Letterboxd, and doing TikToks to promote the film, Cooper has been silent.
In September, Cooper checked the sound levels of his film at the Venice Film Festival. In October, Cooper sat in the crowd at the New York Film Festival debut. Since then, not much else has happened on the Maestro front.
Because Cooper hasn’t been able to promote Maestro all that much, some believe that he’s lost too much valuable time to clean up at the 96th Oscars.
One such person who’s concerned for Cooper is Kyle Buchanan, the awards season columnist for The New York Times.
“He needs to sell it, because it isn’t a mainstream film,” Buchanan said. “It’ll be viewed by the mainstream, by the account of being on Netflix, but it takes chances and is artistic. It won’t be the easiest sell.”
Plus, to make matters worse, Cillian Murphy is currently the frontrunner in the Best Actor race. Murphy’s performance as J Robert Oppenheimer in the biopic Oppenheimer, has cemented itself in the cultural zeitgeist. Crucially, Oppenheimer had completed much of its press right before the SAG-AFTRA strike had kicked off.
Now, if SAG-AFTRA had allowed Cooper to promote Maestro this year, would that have made a difference? Would Maestro currently be the Academy Awards’ bouncing baby boy? We’ll never know.
However, from Belloni’s perspective, this allowance probably couldn’t have hurt.
Part Four: Dune and the Challengers
As previously noted, Maestro is just one of the Oscar hungry films that has been impacted by the 2023 Hollywood strikes. Two other films that were affected by the picket lines were Dune: Part Two and the Challengers.
Luca Guadagnino’s Challengers was originally slated for an August 2023 release, while Denis Villeneuve’s Dune sequel was originally set for an October 2023 release. However, as the strikes went on, both films were soon pushed to 2024, removing them from the Oscar conversation this year. They’ll now both be battling for dominance in a chockablocked 2025.
But, as with all things, bad news for some is good news for others. With Dune: Part Two and the Challengers not in the 2024 Oscar race, there’s now room for some smaller films to shine. Smaller films like Past Lives.
Part Five: Past Lives
Past Lives is a film about childhood friends growing apart, and it’s guaranteed to make you weep. It was distributed by A24, directed by Celine Song, and stars Greta Lee. Having premiered to rave reviews at the Sundance Film Festival, all the way back in January 2023, the road to the 2024 Oscars has been a long one.
However, Song and Lee have had a key advantage over most other Oscar hopefuls. They’ve been able to promote.
Because A24 isn’t a major studio, SAG-AFTRA allowed Song and Lee to promote Past Lives during its actors strike. While films like Maestro have had their campaigns impacted by the strikes, Past Lives has been able to stomp a path towards the Oscars, as usual. In this race, time is everything, and Past Lives has had a massive head start.
According to industry experts, Past Lives now has ideal conditions to take home a few trophies. After all, even if Dune: Part Two and Challengers weren’t delayed, they’d still be chasing Past Lives’ wild lead.
Want more entertainment news? Click here to read all our content, and go through the stories below:
- Where Are All the Great Union Films?
- Hollywood on Pause — The SAG Strike Explained
- Unpacking the Drew Barrymore and Bill Maher Drama
- Why the 2007 Writers Strike Changed Everything