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As the actors strike scuttles Hollywood productions, as well as events promoting performers’ work, one movie premiere went forward as scheduled, albeit without its stars.

At Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” premiere Saturday, the only recognizable faces on the red carpet were those of Disney characters, not the star-studded film’s cast members. 

Typically, red carpet events featuring celebrities arriving amid flashing bulbs and screaming fans are a trademark of — and the engine behind — Hollywood premieres. But as roughly 65,000 actors represented by the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) are now on strike, they are prohibited not only from working on camera but from promoting their work through festivals, premieres or interviews. 

SAG-AFTRA announced the work stoppage Friday after negotiations with studios failed. They join more than 11,000 TV and script writers represented by the Writers Guild of America who have been on strike since early May, marking the first time since 1960 that two major Hollywood unions have been on strike at the same time. The dual strikes pose an existential threat to the industry, particularly if the protracted negotiations drag on past the summer, experts have said.

YouTuber Kurt Tocci attends the World Premiere of Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” at Disney California Adventure Park on July 15, 2023 in Anaheim, California. 

Frazer Harrison

A different kind of premiere

Consequently, the “Haunted House” premiere, the first Hollywood event to take place since SAG-AFTRA threw up picket lines last week, indeed looked different from typical red carpet events. 

Lead actors Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito and Rosario Dawson, among other cast members, were notably absent from the event, held at the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland, on which the film is based.

In their place were Disney characters including Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse, Maleficent and Cruella de Vil, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Other attendees included so-called influencers, who are not represented by the actors guild. 

“I felt like I had to be here”

The film’s director, Justin Simien, was also in attendance. Simien said he supported actors who are striking in order to reach what they consider to be a fair deal with Hollywood studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). But he’s also proud of their work on the film which he wanted to promote.

“I feel very ambivalent about it, but at the same time, I’m just so proud of this cast and I’m so, so proud of Katie Dippold who wrote the script, and so much of why I did this was to honor her words and to honor their work,” Simien told The Hollywood Reporter at the premiere. “If they can’t be here to speak for it, I felt like I had to be here to speak for it. It’s sad that they’re not here. At the same time, I totally support the reason why they’re not here, and I’m happy to be the one to ring the bell in their stead.” 

“Haunted Mansion” director Justin Simien, seen here at  ESSENCE Festival Of Culture in June, attended the film’s premiere in lieu of the film’s stars and screenplay writer Katie Dippold.

/ Getty Images

At issue in the negotiations between actors and studios are two primary sticking points: how the advent of streaming affects their pay, and the prospect of artificial intelligence replacing them

Simien also told the Hollywood Reporter that he believes actors’ AI-related concerns are “a very important thing to hammer home and to figure out.”

No premiere for “Oppenheimer”

By contrast, highly anticipated summer titles without costumed characters to rely on as stand-ins, such as Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer,” scrapped premieres altogether after the strike began. (Actors attending the film’s U.K. premiere on Friday walked out as soon as SAG-AFTRA called a strike.)

Media Mogul Barry Diller, the former chairman and CEO of Fox, Inc., suggested on “Face the Nation” Sunday that Hollywood executives as well as the highest-paid actors should take 25% pay cuts “to try and narrow the difference between those who get highly paid and those that don’t.”

“Everybody’s probably overpaid at the top end,” Diller, chairman and senior executive of IAC and Expedia, said.

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