Yesterday, actress Fran Drescher, the president of the actor’s union SAG-AFTRA, shared that her union voted to strike alongside the Hollywood writers guild (WGA). Drescher announced the strike with a speech some are calling the performance of her lifetime.
While I would argue that her performance in every episode of “The Nanny” should be bestowed that honor, we can all agree that the Jewish actress came off impassioned, wise, and impossibly eloquent.
Drescher called the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMTP) a greedy entity that is victimizing actors, and declared “the jig is up” — stating that the trade organization’s inability to offer proper compensation to actors in light of a changing business model, with streaming services on the rise and AI and technology changing the industry is no longer acceptable
“What are we doing, moving around furniture in the titanic?” she decried. And of course, like a Jewish maternal figure, she chastised them with a “shame on them.” Fran took no prisoners and minced no words, saying that AMPTP is “on the wrong side of history.”
Along with that familiar signature New Yawk accent, she also peppered her speech with Yiddishisms — giving extra weight to her rallying cry.
She likened the AMPTP’s offer to what her Jewish mother calls “a leck and a schmeck,” a lick and a sniff — a whole lot of nothing, basically. The audience might have giggled, but it is the perfect Yiddish expression to use when you are getting short-changed, and works in so many settings — from labor organizing to relationships.
Fran Drescher is killing this press conference. It’s the energy and honesty we need. Also I am genetically predisposed to worship her Jewish New York Yiddish speaking vibe. As Fran said, the jig is up!
— Leslie Grossman (@MissLeslieG) July 13, 2023
It wasn’t the only time Drescher mentioned her Jewish mother on Thursday at the press conference. She also used the moment to — well, Jewish mom guilt her own Jewish mom! When a journalist questioned the optics of a glamorous picture of Drescher with Kim Kardashian at a tony Dolce & Gabana event in Italy while the union was negotiating, Fran corrected emphatically “it was absolute work… I worked around the clock in three different timezones because my parents live in Florida though I keep asking them to move here and I manage their wellbeing as well,” she said.
And in a sit down with the AP, Fran also dropped a little bit of Yiddish when talking about what SAG was offered by execs — “we got bupkis, I think that we were duped,” she said, using the Yiddish word for nothing.
Drescher, who, it should be mentioned, was recently under fire for her stance against vaccine mandates, also made sure to remind us that this strike is about more than just some wealthy actors getting better pay. She talked about how the majority of SAG-AFTRA members are journeyman performers — working class people looking to take care of their families. And she also talked about the implication of the strike beyond Hollywood.
“What is happening here is not unique,” she explained, “We being performers are able to get press… it’s very important that everybody appreciate that we’re not just sticking up for ourselves, but we’re sticking up for everybody else… It’s a slippery slope into a very dangerous time and a real dystopia, if big business, corporations think that they can put real human beings out of work and replace them with artificial intelligence, it’s dangerous, it’s without thinking or conscience.”
Drescher, 65, said she hopes that the media attention the SAG strike will get will help other labor movements. The W has also been on strike for 11 weeks, and now SAG is joining them, making this strike led by Drescher historical. It’s the first time in since the 1960s that both unions have been on strike at the same time.
Drescher spoke of working in three different time zones over the last few weeks because “my parents live in Florida though I keep asking them to move here.”
This strike is starting to feel a little Jewish (but aren't all strike a little bit Jewish)? pic.twitter.com/L0WjXku481
— Dvora Meyers (@DvoraMeyers) July 13, 2023
While Drescher’s use of Yiddishism feels like an adorable extra embellishment, it is a throwback to the vital part Yiddish played in the Jewish labor movement, and the great number of Yiddish labor songs out there that are perfect for all strikers (and these Yiddish curses are pretty great to use against greedy corporations).
It’s also a reminder of how integral unions have been to Jews in this country and beyond, an idea that you can even find in one old Nanny episode: In “The Strike,” Fran refuses to cross a picket line because it was one of only three rules her Jewish mother told her she is never allowed to break. When Mr. Sheffield tries to get her to cross the line anyway, she says it would make her aunt roll in her grave, a grave, she says “was paid for by her union.”
“We are labor and we stand tall and we demand respect, you share the wealth because you cannot exist without us,” Drescher said in her speech on Thursday, echoing the sentiments of so many Jewish labor activists before her.
Fran Drescher out here making the sign language interpreter do Yiddish
— Matt Goldich (@MattGoldich) July 13, 2023