As any worker who has ever gone on strike knows, the only way things get better is if you have a united front.
Sadly for striking writers in Hollywood, Drew Barrymore appears to have missed that particular memo. The actress and talkshow host is being torn to shreds for her decision to return to work, even as her colleagues remain on strike.
Barrymore doesn’t seem all that bothered. In a lengthy Instagram post, she clapped herself on the back for stepping away from the MTV Movie & TV Awards in May due to the writers’ strike – and then explained in great detail why she eventually decided that crossing the picket line to continue making her own show was acceptable.
While Barrymore’s own work as a performer on The Drew Barrymore Show is not a violation of current Sag-Aftra strike rules because it is a talk show, the show will now be made without its usual writers, as it remains one covered by the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike.
The only thing that can be said in Barrymore’s defence at this stage is that she took ownership over her decision. She didn’t try to hide behind pressure from execs, nor did she give any nauseating excuses about how audiences need her.
Instead, she simply announced that she wanted to return to work so she could provide “what writers do so well, which is a way to bring us together or help us make sense of the human experience”.
A lofty goal, Drew. It would be loftier if the very writers you were praising were returning to work with you – but they’re not. They’re still on strike, fighting for better pay and conditions, standing on the picket line each day in a desperate bid to make their industry see them and treat them as equals.
Drew Barrymore is representative of the inequality that plagues Hollywood
The fallout has been swift and embarrassing. Striking writers picketed outside the recording of her talkshow in New York, including some of her show’s own writers – the very people who can’t go back to work because their fight isn’t over.
To say it’s a bad look would be an understatement – but how could anyone have expected anything more?
In many ways, Barrymore is representative of the divisions and inequalities that plague Hollywood and the economic system more broadly. She is an A-lister who has earned millions of dollars over the course of her decades-spanning career. In more recent times, she has successfully reinvented herself as a talkshow host – a gig she is undoubtedly well-paid for.
Sitting on the other side of the fence are writers and jobbing actors who are struggling to make a living – and who have seen their earnings deteriorate thanks to measly streaming-era residuals. Nobody ever claimed Hollywood was equal, but there are few industries where the wealth gap is quite as severe.
Barrymore could have decided to abandon her talkshow and stand on the picket line with her colleagues – but instead she chose to aid the very executives who are withholding wealth and better conditions from writers. She has played into their hands by enabling her industry to keep working even without the staff who make her show what it is.
The reality is that Hollywood couldn’t function without its writers or the everyday actors who prop up productions – but studios will try their best to keep afloat for as long as they can in the desperate hope that workers will become worn out, tired and financially desperate.
What helps those shareholders and senior executives is people like Drew Barrymore sauntering across the picket line. It means that the show can still go on, and the people who are raking in all the money can continue to do so.
Sadly for striking workers in Hollywood, Barrymore isn’t even the only A-lister to ignore the WGA strike. The Talk, The Jennifer Hudson Show and Sherri are all due to recommence production in the near future, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
That’s bad for writers and actors, but it’s also bad for workers everywhere. It sent a clear message to the executives pulling in big bucks in every industry that you can always find a cohort of well-paid, well-respected employees who will ignore strike action and turn up to do their job – no matter what their co-workers are fighting for.
Barrymore might think she’s doing something innocuous or inconsequential by returning to her show, but in reality, she’s sending a message to bosses and execs all across the world that it’s always possible to delegitimise workers. All you need is the right people to cross the picket line.
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