Fourteen big-name celebrities have donated at least one million to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation's Emergency Financial Assistance Program as actors continue to strike for fairer compensation for their labor.
As reported by IndieWire, at least seven Academy Award-nominated actors and several others have donated a significant amount of money to support struggling actors without work amid the strikes. The list includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Oprah Winfrey, Meryl Streep, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, and Dwayne Johnson. Several celebrity couples have donated, too, including Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, Hugh Jackman and Deborra-lee Furness, Matt and Luciana Damon, Ryan Renolds and Blake Lively, and George and Amal Clooney.
“I remember my days as a waiter, cleaner, typist, even my time on the unemployment line. In this strike action, I am lucky to be able to support those who will struggle in a long action to sustain against Goliath," said Streep in a statement announcing her donation. "We will stand strong together against these powerful corporations who are bent on taking the humanity, the human dignity, even the human out of our profession. I am proudest of my fellow actors who have immediately offered to fund the Emergency Financial Assistance Program.”
Clooney also released a statement in which he said he is ready to help actors get a fair deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. He also thanked SAG-AFTRA Foundation president Courtney B. Vance for "putting this effort together by shedding light on the human toll happening right now, and how we can work together to alleviate some of the pain and suffering.”
Founded in 1985, the SAG-AFTRA Foundation is separate from the union and helps provide financial relief to union members who are struggling to make ends meet. The foundation is bolstered by showings of union member films and post-screening Q&As. The Foundation's Emergency Financial Assistance Program has raised over $15 million in the past three weeks.
When SAG-AFTRA announced a strike on July 13, Vance and executive director Cyd Wilson wrote a letter to 2,700 of the highest-earning actors in the union to ask for financial assistance for some of the lowest-earning actors. Considering the average yearly income of SAG-AFTRA members is $26,000, the shutdown of almost all productions has impacted a lot of individuals on the lower end. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the SAG-AFTRA Foundation issued a similar letter.
The strike coincides with the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike, which started on May 2. The main focus of the strikes is focused on residuals from streaming media and the exploitative use of AI, which takes labor away from real people.
As Breaking Bad actor Bryan Cranston put it during a speech last month, CEOs like Walt Disney Company's Bob Iger continue to unfairly make millions upon millions from the labor of others. "I know, sir, that you look through things through a different lens," Cranston said. "We don’t expect you to understand who we are but we asking you to hear us, and beyond that to listen to us when we tell you we will not be having our jobs taken away and given to robots. We will not have you take away our right to work and earn a decent living. And lastly, and most importantly, we will not allow you to take away our dignity. We are union through and through, all the way to the end."