Dwayne Johnson Kickstarts $15M in A-Lister Donations to Actors Strike

In the past three weeks, Meryl Streep and George Clooney lobbied their famous colleagues to donate $1 million or more to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation.

Shortly after the actors’ strike was announced by SAG-AFTRA on July 14, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson made an unprecedented donation to the union’s foundation. At the time, the seven-figure gift was the largest individual contribution in its nearly 50-year history. But as it turns out, that donation helped rally scores of other Hollywood stars to give similar funds, according to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, which yesterday (August 2) announced that it has received $15 million over the past three weeks from stars like Meryl Streep and George Clooney.

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12 individual photos of Dwayne Johnson, Hugh Jackman, Meryl Streep, Leo Dicaprio, George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, JLo and Ben Affleck, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Matt Damon
More than a dozen of Hollywood’s most well-paid stars have donated seven figures to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation. Getty Images

The foundation, which is affiliated with SAG-AFTRA but remains a separate entity, aids actors facing economic hardship. These struggles have proliferated during the actors’ strike, as the organization’s Emergency Financial Assistance Program is currently receiving more than 30 times its usual number of applicants, with 400 applications received last week alone.

Around 86 percent of the union’s members bring in less than $26,500 annually. The work stoppage, launched in response to low wages and concerns about the future of artificial intelligence in entertainment, “magnifies the precarious living conditions and financial distress of many actors living paycheck to paycheck,” said the foundation’s president, Courtney B. Vance, in a statement.

Meryl Streep and George Clooney campaigned fellow actors to donate

After the strike was first announced, Vance quickly began appealing to well-paid Hollywood stars to “remember how tough it was coming up.” Shortly after Johnson’s historic gift, Streep and Clooney not only gave $1 million each to the foundation but began lobbying their colleagues to make similar donations. “I remember my days as a waiter, cleaner, typist, even my time on the unemployment line,” said Streep in a statement. “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.”

Clooney, who donated to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation alongside his wife Amal, stated that “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.” Leonardo DiCaprio, Nicole Kidman, Oprah Winfrey, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Julia Roberts are among the other A-listers who have since given $1 million or more to the SAG-AFTRA Foundation, in addition to couples Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, Hugh Jackman and Deborra-Lee Furness, and Luciana and Matt Damon.

“We’ve crushed our initial goal because our people are coming together, but we still aren’t done,” said Vance, adding that the foundation’s fundraising will continue on. Its Emergency Financial Assistance Program is the only fund that solely supports SAG-AFTRA members in times of need, offering grants to help with rent, mortgage payments, utilities, groceries and medical expenses. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, it helped raise more than $7 million to distribute to actors in financially precarious situations.

What is the SAG-AFTRA Foundation?

Established in 1985, the non-profit also runs the Senior Financial Crisis Fund, which aids union members aged 65 or older through times of economic or medical need, and the Catastrophic Health Fund, which assists actors through events of unexpected illness or injury.

The organization has long been involved in children’s literacy, with actors Barbara Bain and Mary Stuard in 1993 starting the BookPALS program. Storyline Online, an award-winning children’s literacy website run by the foundation, receives more than 140 million annual views on its videos depicting actors reading children’s books alongside illustrations. Winfrey, Chris Pine, Jennifer Garner and Sofia Vergara are among the Hollywood stars who have participated in the program, with Vergara becoming the first bilingual reader on the website.

Union members and their children are additionally eligible to receive scholarship assistance from the foundation, which boasts numerous free resources for actors. It operates free software classes and two voiceover labs in New York and Los Angeles. Meanwhile, free programs and panels consisting of casting advice, career retrospectives, Q&As and interviews with industry professionals are also offered by the foundation.

Dwayne Johnson Kickstarts $15M in A-Lister Donations to Actors Strike