Every Labor Day weekend, tens of thousands of people from all over the world congregate in Atlanta to go to DragonCon, a science-fiction and fantasy convention. DragonCon attracts everyone from scientists and puppeteers to celebrities like George Takei and has a storied history, including “cults” dedicated to an old carpet in the downtown Marriott Marquis and another one for a UPS cutout from years ago. The annual parade attracts not only con-goers, but other Atlanta citizens, and traffic downtown is even worse than usual during the weekend.
I was able to attend DragonCon for the fourth time this year, and as always, I loved it. There were panels on the cryptids of Georgia, “Legends of Tomorrow,” “Firefly,” and “The Lord of the Rings,” as well as themed parties like “Last Night on Alderaan” and “Heroes and Villains.” On Saturday night, attendees could visit the Georgia Aquarium and see the whale sharks and Belugas, food and drink in hand.
However, this year, some things were different. Due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike, actors attending the convention were not allowed to talk about their projects, past or present. Only actors in video games could discuss their work, though that might change in the future as the SAG-AFTRA national board has voted to send a strike authorization to video game union members.
But what does it look like when you’re attending a panel with Sean Astin and Elijah Wood, but they can’t mention anything about Middle Earth? Or when George Takei can’t say the words “Star Trek”? You get Matt Ryan and Adam Tsekhman from “Legends of Tomorrow” discussing the best way to trim ear hair, or Sean Astin singing Jimmy Buffet to the audience as a tribute to the last musician. References to “The Lord of the Rings” instead became references to a long trip to New Zealand, where the movies were filmed, where everyone did a lot of walking and hiking.
Typically, these panels feature questions that have been asked ad nauseam—how was it working on this set, what is your favorite line you said in this movie or show, et cetera, and it was refreshing to hear more creative questions like, “What is your favorite way to eat a potato?” The audience seemed to enjoy this change of pace, and some even came dressed as Fran Drescher, the president of SAG-AFTRA and face of the strike, from her days in the television show “The Nanny.”
Astin especially has a strong connection to the strike. His mother, Patty Duke, served as president for SAG in the 1980s, where she prevented a television and film strike with keen negotiating tactics, though she also oversaw strikes for commercials and animation when agreements couldn’t be reached.
Astin himself is part of SAG’s negotiating committee and has been vocal on social media and the picket lines. At DragonCon, he was noticeably somber when talking about the strike, especially as the convention came not too long after the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers once again failed to reach an agreement. Still, Astin emphasized that all the actors striking are in “lockstep,” and that SAG will continue to fight for fair streaming residuals and guarantees against AI replacement.
He encouraged attendees to support the strike however they could, even if it was just by retweeting or liking a post on social media. This was met with raucous applause, as Atlanta has rapidly gained popularity as a place to film and work due to its production tax breaks, and thus possesses a significant portion of SAG (and even WGA) members.
Luckily for us DragonCon attendees, the ongoing strikes did not seem to impact the number of actors attending the convention, and some likely view “cons” as a way to maintain a source of income while they are unable to work. But how long can these actors survive working the convention circuit? What about those who can’t go to cons?
Astin encouraged anyone with the means to donate to the SAG-AFTRA Emergency Financial Assistance and Disaster Relief Fund, which has recently seen an influx in cash from the likes of Dwayne Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, and others. But, there seems to be little hope for a swift resolution at this point, and donations can only do so much. Nevertheless, seeing the solidarity between the actors at the convention and the support from the audience, it seems that most stand behind SAG when it comes to the strike.
Though not a conventional DragonCon, it was no less enjoyable for the attendees and served as a stark reminder of how the strike won’t just affect the movie or TV release calendar, but everyone who makes a living in the entertainment industry…and those who just want to have a fun weekend in downtown Atlanta.