— Meryl Streep, who was chosen to be honored at the gala next month for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, was initially under the impression that the Hollywood actors’ strike would prevent her from attending.
The strike, after all, had already forced the Academy to delay one gala in November, where Angela Bassett and Mel Brooks were to receive honorary Oscars. In the case of the fund-raising event planned for Oct. 14, it was unclear at first if SAG-AFTRA, the union representing TV and movie actors, would allow striking members to attend, and, if it did, whether any would want to go.
Would it be OK to appear at such a celebratory event while the industry is on the ropes? Should actors sit at tables (costing $250,000 to $500,000) that in some cases are paid for by the studios they are striking against? And what about the potential for vitriol and tension, or at least deep social awkwardness?
But after negotiations and quiet diplomacy that determined who could attend and what kinds of work could be honored, the gala — which typically attracts Hollywood’s A-listers and moguls and raises more than $10 million for the popular museum — will proceed. The biggest change: Executives from the studios being struck, some of which are among the museum’s biggest sponsors, will not be there.
Streep will be, though, since she has approval from her union. “I have been assured that SAG-AFTRA has encouraged members to attend the gala — that the museum deeply depends on this event for its educational and community outreach, and that no industry executives from struck companies will be in attendance,” she said in an email. “So I am steaming my dress and heading West.”
Streep’s initial confusion is emblematic of the fraught territory that the industry finds itself in as it tries to navigate the dos and don’ts of the strike — from awards shows and fund-raisers to social events, films and television shows.
It can be confusing: Some talk show hosts have stumbled in trying to do decide whether to return to the air, and the writers’ union picketed “Dancing With the Stars” although its cast had received a green light from SAG-AFTRA to work. The tentative deal reached Sunday by the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers was a hopeful sign, but the actors remain on strike, and securing their union’s blessing was crucial for the Academy gala.
“The basic guidance we’ve given people is, so long as it is not focused on a particular project or a particular struck company, it’s OK for our members to participate in those events and to acknowledge someone’s body of work,” Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the national executive director and chief negotiator of the actors’ union, said in an interview. “There will be members who choose not to participate in these things who don’t feel it’s the right thing to do at this point, since it is a serious time for people who work in the industry. I imagine our members will make judgments for themselves.”
The gala is vital for the nascent museum, in an effort to raise millions of dollars and the institution’s profile. The event’s knack for drawing bold-faced names has led some to think of it as a West Coast Met Gala. The question this year is whether the lack of studio executives, and qualms on the part of striking actors, could make this year’s party less buoyant or its red carpet less buzzy.
But assuming the honorees show up as planned, there will be guaranteed star power present: In addition to Streep, the Academy will honor Oprah Winfrey, Michael B. Jordan, and Sofia Coppola. The chairs of the gala, which is raising money for exhibitions, education and public programs, are the director Ava DuVernay, the actor Halle Berry, the producer Ryan Murphy and the producer Dr. Eric Esrailian, a physician and a trustee.
“This event is about raising vital funds to ensure that this work will go on in service to the public,” said Jacqueline Stewart, who last year became the museum’s director and president. “The work of the museum is a common ground despite the strikes.”
Behind the scenes, union representatives have been in discussions with the museum to set certain ground rules: Individual actors can be honored, but not individual projects, and bodies of work can be highlighted, but not specific films, studios or streaming services. If the gala ventures out of bounds, Crabtree-Ireland said, members will be expected to get up and leave to avoid incurring disciplinary measures.
Stewart said that no guests had declined invitations citing the strike as a reason. While some studios have contributed funds to the gala, she said, “given the particular circumstances this year, there will be no executives from struck companies in attendance.” The majority of table and ticket buyers are not from the studios, the museum said, but are a mix of corporate supporters, philanthropists, and museum trustees.
Some union members hope that the museum gala can be an opportunity to highlight the labor dispute, which was prompted by concerns about pay, artificial intelligence and working conditions and which has halted virtually all production.
“I get that the optics are bad when some of our members are walking the picket line and others are putting on black tie and jewels and walking the red carpet,” said Greg Cope White, who had to pause production on a Netflix adaptation of his memoir — for which he is also a screenwriter — “The Pink Marine,” about a gay 18-year-old who joins the U.S. Marine Corps.
“The gala is an opportunity to get some attention to our cause,” White added. “Meryl Streep and Oprah are great speakers. Hopefully they’ll give passionate sound bites that will bring some light to us.”
Each honoree will receive a different award — Streep, for her “global cultural impact”; Jordan for “helping to contextualize and challenge dominant narratives around cinema”; Winfrey for her “exemplary leadership and support” of the museum; and Coppola for innovations that “have advanced the art of cinema.”
After numerous delays, the Academy Museum finally opened in 2021, a seven-story, $484 million concrete-and-glass spherical building designed by the architect Renzo Piano that was widely welcomed as an example of the city’s cultural fertility. An exhibition dedicated to John Waters, the cult filmmaker who directed “Pink Flamingos,” “Polyester” and “Hairspray,” opened there on Sept. 17.
Although the gala is approaching fast, some actors and writers remain hopeful that the strike will be resolved by the time the limousines start to roll down Wilshire Boulevard. “If I could open the envelope at the Oscars,” White said, “It would say, ‘Strike is over.’”
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