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In 1933, the nascent Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences came between studio executives and film workers during a labor dispute, and the resulting backlash almost led to the organization’s collapse, prompting it, in 1937, to change its bylaws so that it would not play any role in future labor-related standoffs. Ninety years later, though, the Academy once again finds itself caught between those same constituencies.
The Academy Museum Gala, an annual Met Gala-like fundraiser that raises millions of dollars essential to the sustenance of its young Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, usually attracts Hollywood’s highest-profile executives and stars, who often sit together at $250,000 tables ($25,000 per seat) paid for by studios. Heading in to this year’s Museum Gala on Oct. 14 — at which honorees expected to be in attendance include Meryl Streep, Oprah Winfrey and Michael B. Jordan, all members of SAG-AFTRA — that dynamic struck many as untenable, given SAG-AFTRA’s ongoing strike against the AMPTP. (Similar concerns have already resulted in the postponement of the Academy’s annual Governors Awards from Nov. 18 to Jan. 9, 2024, in the hope that the town will be back to business as usual by then.)
The New York Times reported on Tuesday, in a story that was largely buried by the news of the resolution of the WGA’s strike against the AMPTP, that the Academy Museum’s director and president Jacqueline Stewart had told them that “given the particular circumstances this year, there will be no executives from struck companies in attendance” at this year’s Museum Gala.
That raised a few questions. The chair of the Academy Museum’s board of trustees is Netflix CEO Ted Sarandos, one of Hollywood’s most prominent executives, but even he will not be attending the institution’s flagship event? Also, all executives didn’t happen to simultaneously decide to bow out of attending the event, so who coordinated that decision? Furthermore, did the executives also pull their funding for the event, or, if not, who will be sitting at the tables that the studios paid for? Some actors have been invited to attend the event as guests of brands that bought tables, but what about the rest of them?
THR has learned that it was Sarandos, in a Sept. 18 note to his fellow studio executives, who suggested that they stay away amid the strike. He argued that doing so would be the best way of ensuring “that the fundraising of this critically important non-profit is not hindered in any way,” and he urged them to join him in “donating” their seats back to the Academy Museum, as opposed to asking for a refund.
An Academy Museum official who forwarded Sarandos’ communication to the other executives added as an addendum: “We are kindly asking that you help us work with your teams to focus your tables on creative talent only. Thank you in advance for being sensitive and mindful of this as you finalize your guest lists.”
Sources confirm to THR that a consultant retained by the Academy Museum is working with studios to make sure that the people who the studios would have invited to sit at their table now receive invitations from the Academy Museum — and that the resulting guest lists do include actors.
In other words, actors in attendance at this year’s Museum Gala who are not guests of brands that bought tables — as well as other creative artists and other non-execs — may technically be guests of the Academy Museum, but could be sitting in seats that were paid for by studios they are striking against. (The Academy declined comment.)
Of course, all of these considerations would be rendered irrelevant if the actors’ strike is resolved before Oct. 14.