The Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors’ former ties to Hollywood’s unions are coming into question in light of its recent decision to stand by its award to ultra-conservative presidential hopeful Senator Ted Cruz.
The decision to give the Texas Republican its American Spirit Award had polarized the caucus’ membership, with internal objections leading to an emergency meeting of the executive committee Monday, which upheld the decision to honor Cruz. The caucus traditionally hands out American Spirit Awards to a Republican and a Democrat (California Governor Jerry Brown appears to be the choice on the liberal side this year, though it is unclear whether the Cruz controversy would affect his decision to accept it). Other prominent conservatives have received the award in the past, including include Congressmen Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Eric Cantor (R-VA), but none has been as polarizing or anti-union as Cruz.
Co-founded in 1977 by Hollywood liberal icon Norman Lear, the caucus claims that its American Spirit Award once was co-sponsored by all the major Hollywood guilds. “The Caucus in association with the creative guilds – AFTRA, DGA, PGA, SAG and WGA – presents the American Spirit Award singling out excellence that supports, protects and promotes independent producers, writers, directors and hyphenate-actors,” wrote Chuck Fries, chair of the American Spirit Awards, in a 2012 newsletter.
The DGA, in fact, never was a sponsor of the award, and to whatever extent SAG, AFTRA, the WGA and the PGA were involved, they no longer are and haven’t been for at least two years. “None of the guilds are sponsoring,” said a Caucus spokesperson. “It’s completely sponsored by the Caucus.” Neither SAG-AFTRA nor the WGA West responded to Deadline’s queries about their past association with the American Spirit Award.
The AFL-CIO, to which SAG-AFTRA and the WGA East are affiliated, has given Cruz a 0% lifetime rating. He’s one of only two sitting US senators that the AFL-CIO has given a 0% lifetime rating. He opposes the open Internet, which all the guilds support; he has campaigned for the repeal the Affordable Care Act, which has given health coverage to many guild members who don’t qualify for union health benefits; he steadfastly opposes increases in the minimum wage, which all unions support; and he staunchly defends the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling, which nearly all unions oppose. Even Issa got an 11% lifetime rating from the AFL-CIO, and Cantor got 7%.
Cruz, who’s no friend of organized labor, is fond of bashing Hollywood as well. “The Hollywood liberal elites, they have their view of things,” he said on Fox News last year in response to Harvey Weinstein’s announcement that he was going to produce a film about the National Rifle Association.
Cruz is receiving the American Spirit Award, a spokesperson for the Caucus said, “based on his support and commitment to the creative community.” Asked what support and commitment that might be, the spokesperson said, “I don’t have that information.”
Lionel Chetwynd, the darling of Hollywood conservatives who co-chairs the event, had this to say about Cruz: “There is no greater advocate on Capitol Hill for free speech, nor persistent critic of pirating of our intellectual property all over the world.”