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Drew Barrymore in the video she posted to Instagram explaining her decision to resume filming her talkshow. She has since reversed the decision
‘Top spot in the Hall of Cringe’ … Barrymore’s video explaining her now-reversed decision to resume filming her talkshow.
‘Top spot in the Hall of Cringe’ … Barrymore’s video explaining her now-reversed decision to resume filming her talkshow.

Drew Barrymore was America’s sweetheart – but her baffling video was a terrible misstep

Arwa Mahdawi

Her decision to continue her talkshow amid the writers’ strike received such a backlash that she reversed it. But the holes in her ‘apology’ had already been laid bare

Gal Gadot must be giddy with relief. For the past few years, the Wonder Woman actor has held the No 1 spot in the category of most cringeworthy and ill-advised celebrity home video ever made. You will know the one: the star-studded rendition of John Lennon’s Imagine that she posted online at the start of the pandemic to try to cheer us up. Because nothing is more uplifting than hearing a celebrity trill “imagine no possessions” from their multimillion-dollar mansion while the world as you know it crumbles.

Now, however, Gadot has been knocked off the top spot in the Hall of Cringe by Drew Barrymore. On Friday, the actor and producer posted a weepy Instagram video justifying her decision to resume filming The Drew Barrymore Show, even though the writers’ and actors’ strikes aren’t over.

Despite repeated assurances that there wasn’t a PR team behind the video, it was clearly carefully stage-managed and contained the hallmarks of a contrite celebrity piece to camera: minimal makeup, a lot of tears, a ton of therapy-speak about how she owned her mistakes. It was also filmed in a humdrum corner of whatever mansion she happened to be in that week; there was no opulent background to further enrage the viewer, just lots of yellowish wallpaper, including on the ceiling. The vibe was sad mouse in a vintage chocolate box.

While the stage management was fine, the tone and content of the video were baffling. Barrymore spent four interminable minutes feeling sorry for herself and reiterating that, despite all the criticism, she was going to start filming her talkshow again. “There’s a huge question of the why – why am I doing this?” she acknowledged. “I wanted to do this because … this is bigger than me … I just wanted to make a show that was there for people in sensitive times. I thought: ‘If we can go on during a global pandemic and everything that the world has experienced through 2020, why would this sideline us?’”

Well, perhaps because a pandemic and a strike are different things? Perhaps because artists organising for better working conditions can’t be compared to an airborne virus that has killed millions of people? Perhaps, if all the writers weren’t on strike, someone might have told Barrymore this and crafted her a more meaningful script.

Anyway, as you can imagine, the online masses received Barrymore’s video with kindness and sensitivity. They considered her point of view, then offered compassionate and constructive criticism. Just kidding, she was mercilessly mocked and essentially bullied into taking down the video just hours after she had posted it. Then, on Sunday, Barrymore returned to Instagram to offer a proper apology and say she had decided to pause the show until the strikes are over.

Barrymore was not the only one rethinking her actions amid a furious backlash. After she announced she was bringing back her show, other programmes, including The Jennifer Hudson Show and Real Time With Bill Maher, followed suit. Now, they too have pushed back their start dates, which I imagine is a real loss for Maher’s fans. If his show doesn’t return soon, where on earth will they turn to hear a rich white dude criticise wokeness and cancel culture ad nauseam while indulging in brazen Islamophobia?

I am glad that Barrymore listened to the criticism and decided to show solidarity to striking artists, but let’s be clear: it was the least she could do. She is a multimillionaire with numerous revenue streams outside entertainment, including cosmetics, perfume, eyewear, clothing and wine. She can afford to support her staff while negotiations continue. She can afford to wait out the strikes.

Others aren’t as lucky. Last month, the Emmy-winning actor Billy Porter told the Evening Standard that he had had to sell his house because his projects were on hold due to the strikes. “The life of an artist, until you make fuck-you money – which I haven’t made yet – is still cheque-to-cheque,” Porter said. Which is exactly why everyone is still on strike.

Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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