Hollywood actors have now been on strike for nearly three weeks. They have walked picket lines in broiling heat, orchestrated noisy rallies and flooded social media with cris de coeur. Harrison Ford’s stunt double lit himself on fire (safely) at a protest in Georgia. The president of the actors’ union, Fran Drescher, on Tuesday spoke about “greed-driven” studios at a New York City Council meeting.
But some people have been puzzled about one missing element. As Variety, the entertainment trade magazine, put it in a July 24 headline, “Why Haven’t A-List Stars Joined the SAG-AFTRA Picket Line?”
As it turns out, some megastars — Meryl Streep and George Clooney, in particular — have contributed in a different way.
The SAG-AFTRA Foundation, a charity that provides financial assistance to workaday performers, said on Wednesday that Ms. Streep and Mr. Clooney had helped lead a donation campaign that had raised more than $15 million over the last three weeks. The pair each gave $1 million and then started to lobby Hollywood’s other top-earning stars for contributions. A Google Doc was created to keep track of who was leaning on whom.
Eight more stars (Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio, Hugh Jackman, Dwayne Johnson, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Oprah Winfrey) gave $1 million or more, along with two star couples: Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck and Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively.
“I remember my days as a waiter, cleaner, typist, even my time on the unemployment line,” Ms. Streep said in a statement. “In this strike action, I am lucky to be able to support those who will struggle in a long action to sustain against Goliath.”
Mr. Clooney added, “We’ve stood on the shoulders of the likes of Bette Davis and Jimmy Cagney, and it’s time for our generation to give something back.”
Mr. Johnson’s contribution was disclosed by Courtney B. Vance, president of the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, late last month. Still known to some fans as the Rock, Mr. Johnson had responded to an appeal by Mr. Vance to high-earning actors at the start of the strike. The resulting publicity was helpful in garnering support for the Streep-Clooney campaign, according to a spokeswoman for the 38-year-old SAG-AFTRA Foundation, which is associated with the actors’ union but run independently.
Some actors are highly compensated, but Ms. Drescher told the New York City Council that 86 percent of the union’s 160,000 members make less than $26,500 a year. Mr. Vance said the foundation’s financial assistance program “is currently processing more than 30 times our usual number of applications for emergency aid.”
“We received 400 applications in the last week alone,” he said.
Some big stars have been visible on picket lines, including Lupita Nyong’o, Colin Farrell, Jane Fonda, Awkwafina and Brendan Fraser, the reigning Oscar winner for best actor. But star power can cut both ways; the strike is about pay minimums, and protests by elite actors could muddy the message. There is also the issue of security and the possibility that swarms of fans could descend.
It is unclear how long the actors’ strike will last — screenwriters are also on strike — but most people in Hollywood expect it to continue for several more weeks, at a minimum. SAG-AFTRA last went on strike in 1980.
The actors’ union has said it is trying to ensure reasonable wages for workaday members, in particular those making movies or TV shows for streaming services. Actors also worry that artificial intelligence technology could be used to create digital replicas of their likenesses (or that performances could be digitally altered) without payment or approval.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of Hollywood companies, has said it remains committed to reaching a fair deal at a difficult time for an industry upended by the streaming revolution, which the pandemic sped up.
“The union has regrettably chosen a path that will lead to financial hardship for countless thousands of people who depend on the industry,” the alliance said in a news release when actors walked out.