Fran Drescher is wielding her ‘star power’ to maximize SAG-AFTRA’s influence
Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Carrie Lam won’t seek a second term as leader of Hong Kong, 300,000 women entered the workforce last month, and Fran Drescher is wielding her star power to run SAG-AFTRA. Go get your Monday.
– Star quality. Last fall, Fran Drescher was elected president of SAG-AFTRA. The actress, known for her leading role on The Nanny, embodied a presence that prompted union leaders to recruit her to run: star power.
“We are the biggest influencers on the globe,” Drescher says of the 160,000 performers and media professionals she now represents. “We have a responsibility as the largest entertainment union in the world. You can’t underestimate star power.”
Taking on a leadership role isn’t new for Drescher; she produced The Nanny, which ran from 1993 to 1999, and she launched the nonprofit Cancer Schmancer after her own cancer diagnosis. “Having vision, being a president, dealing with a board, realizing your ideas, setting goals, and putting your views out there—it’s all the same,” she says, reflecting on how her past experiences inform her current work. Still, the volunteer position of union president is a shift, and one that sometimes requires up to seven hours of her day.
Drescher succeeded actress Gabrielle Carteris, known for her role in 90210, as SAG-AFTRA’s head. The new president says that Carteris made a “strategic move” in asking her to run, hoping Drescher’s celebrity would give prominence to the organization. And yet, Drescher’s election representing the Unite for Strength slate wasn’t easy; she defeated rival Matthew Modine 52.5% to 47.5% in a race that was at times contentious.
Now at the helm, Drescher hopes to win the support of members who didn’t vote for her. “I want people who voted for me to be thrilled that they voted for me, and those that didn’t to say, ‘By golly, I didn’t vote for her, but I’m glad she won,'” she says.
Preventing sexual harassment in the entertainment industry and encouraging the on-set use of intimacy coordinators are among Drescher’s priorities. Last month, the union accredited seven training programs to try to increase the pool of professionals qualified to guide onscreen nudity and sex scenes (so far, many intimacy coordinators have learned on the job, coming in with dance or stunt choreography backgrounds).
Union leaders who encouraged Drescher to run also hoped that she’d be able to use her nonprofit leadership experience to lobby Washington. Earlier this year, she put those skills to the test as Congress debated the American Music Fairness Act, which would pay performers royalties when their music is played on AM/FM radio.
And, of course, Drescher will be at the helm as the union advocates for COVID-19 protocols that keep its members safe; responds to crises, like the shooting death of Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film Rust; and engages in contract negotiations next year.
It’s been a big week for unions, after the historic labor victory for Amazon warehouse workers on Staten Island. And it’s a big week for SAG-AFTRA too: Wednesday marked the 10-year anniversary of the merger of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The occasion has Drescher thinking about how she can guide the union into its next decade.
“Everything that I have done and accomplished in my life,” she says, “really can all be applied to this position in this one defining moment.”
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