Three years ago, Warner Bros. sitcom “Mom” decided to spotlight Planned Parenthood during the Emmy For Your Consideration campaign window. It was a move that came with a considerable cash donation ($250,000) but also increased attention on the health organization, as suddenly its name was splashed in headlines alongside heavy-weight talent such as Chuck Lorre, Allison Janney and Anna Faris.
Now, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and the protests demanding justice and police reform after the murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others, the need to use one’s platform to give back has become even greater.
“There are a lot of different movements right now, and people are feeling a lot of different pain,” says D.J. Shangela Pierce, star of HBO’s “We’re Here,” who recently launched the Feed the Queens initiative. “In this time, we have to remember that just because we don’t all have all of the resources, those of us who have a little bit more than others need to help out.”
Big awards campaign spenders Amazon, Netflix and HBO all announced this year that they were each donating $1 million to help feed those affected by the pandemic: Amazon teamed with Jon & Vinny’s restaurant group to prepare meals for No Kid Hungry, Off Their Plate, the Los Angeles Mission and the Motion Picture & Television Fund, to name a few. Amazon also dedicated its For Your Consideration billboard space to promote additional causes that provide aid in this unprecedented time. Meanwhile, Netflix supported the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund, while HBO reallocated the money it would have spent on its events to the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles Emergency COVID-19 Crisis Fund. Showtime, on behalf of “Penny Dreadful: City of Angels,” supported the Farmworkers COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Fund, and to support efforts made by the “Desus & Mero” team, the premium cabler also donated to World Central Kitchen and Uplift NYC.
“If you want to affect change, that’s where money comes in,” says Victor Lopez, executive producer of “Desus & Mero” and president, Bodega Boys. “But awareness has its role, and awareness has to be a constant.”
In late April, Lopez, Desus Nice and the Kid Mero launched efforts to raise both funds and awareness for World Central Kitchen, and in late May they expanded their charitable giving campaigning to also include Uplift NYC, which provides low-income youth and their families with access to key resources, including food in the time of the pandemic. And although “Desus & Mero” was on a planned hiatus when the protests began, the team was able to use their sizable online following in support of Black Lives Matter, as well.
“Black Lives Matter exists on its own merits, period. But when COVID happened, [there were] all of these issues with getting resources that typically the under-resourced Bronx doesn’t get [and] that situation became more dire,” Lopez says. “It was Black Lives Matter that took up an initiative, along with places like the World Central Kitchen, feeding these places that were underserved. And it is tragic that municipal services that should be equitably spread through the city, aren’t.”
There are few limits to what can be accomplished when someone with a public platform lends time, talent and voice to a cause.
Jeff Schaffer (“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Dave”) used his comedic writing talent and producing power when working with California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office on the Stay at Home campaign. Working with his wife and collaborator, Jackie Marcus Schaffer, he called upon famous friends (such as Larry David) to help spread the message of the importance of self-quarantining in order to stop the spread of the virus. Similarly, Kevin Bacon (“City on a Hill”) launched an #IStayAtHomeFor challenge on YouTube, encouraging his fans to do their part to flatten the curve, as well. Meanwhile, Damian Lewis (“Billions”) worked with FeedNHS, initially trying to raise £1 million ($1.25 million) to feed National Health Service workers, but the goal was raised to $2.5 million after seeing so much early success.
Longtime “Top Chef” host and previous Emmy nominee Padma Lakshmi recently shot a PSA and participated in a charitable cook-a-thon amid growing concerns about people being able to eat as weeks of self-quarantining turned into months. The former was to benefit the James Beard Foundation while the latter raised funds for Feeding America. Less publicly, she donated to the Marshview Community Organic Farm run by Bill and Sará Green in South Carolina so they could feed 2,000 people affected by the pandemic, and she also donated to bail bond funds around the country, including in Brooklyn, Chicago and Louisville.
“I really believe that a lot of economic developmental problems in various communities and countries around the world have to do with cultural norms that keep perception alive that should be dismantled and those cultural reasons are also a big part of why certain economies are not able to get out from under their poverty,” Lakshmi says.
This is all in addition to longer-term causes of Lakshmi’s, including Planned Parenthood, Endometriosis Foundation of America, and as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations. She also mentors young women in the food business about such things as “contract negotiations and other nuts and bolts things that I never knew about and had to learn the hard way,” she says.
“I need to fashion the world I want to live in. I need to lend whatever little power I may have gained, because if I don’t, what good is my power?”
Pierce teamed up with the Actors Fund to create Feed the Queens, which was borne out of seeing drag performers out of work as clubs and events were closed. With so many having to choose between paying rent and eating (or being unable to do either), and without even one specific organization already designated to help her community, Pierce created one.
“COVID-19 hit the Black community significantly, and a lot of those queens of color are out of work and have even more need. So we are taking a portion of our funds and making sure that they are set aside specifically for queens of color,” she says.
As the protests raged on, Pierce took to social media to bring attention to the #BlackLivesMatter movement. But she doesn’t see the two causes as completely separate.
“We have so much going on in our own individual lives that we forget to see the things that are happening in our communities, and also to see the things that are happening in our world,” she says. “I think what COVID-19 has done is given us a second to look around without the distractions of life.”