Hollywood Races to Nov. 3 With Wave of Last-Minute Election Events: "2016 Taught Us to Never Be Complacent Again"

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

With the memory of Hillary Clinton's stunning loss still fresh, Hollywood activists and organizers are all-hands on deck: "There's no 'too late' this year."

After months of campaigning, the final days of the race between Joe Biden and Donald Trump have seen a historic mad dash to Nov. 3, with Hollywood throwing together dozens of virtual events and TV specials for raising Democratic Party funds and flipping swing states. On Oct. 23, Julia Louis Dreyfus, Larry David and Jason Alexander held a Zoom Seinfeld reunion and raised $600,000 for the Texas Democratic party; on Oct. 24 was a Wet Hot American Summer table read to benefit Biden’s campaign in Pennsylvania; on Oct. 25 was a Happy Days script read benefitting Wisconsin Democrats, which also hosted a Superbad reunion on Oct. 27.

And it didn’t stop there — a virtual Biden campaign concert on Oct. 25 featured John Legend, Sara Bareilles, Jennifer Hudson, Jon Bon Jovi, P!nk, and Ben Platt; Eva Longoria, Ricky Martin and Gloria Estefan hosted "CBS’ Essential Heroes: A Momento Latino Event" on Oct. 26, focused on celebrating Latinx culture and getting out the vote. Cher and Hillary Clinton set a virtual “sipping tea” conversation on Oct. 29, supporting over 50 House Democratic candidates, and Oprah hosted four virtual swing state town halls from Oct. 26 to Oct. 29. The Biden Victory fund hosted a virtual homecoming celebration of Black excellence on Oct. 31, featuring Samuel L. Jackson and Star Jones, and anti-corruption nonprofit RepresentUs will livestream a star-studded "Telethon for America" on Nov. 2, with Mark Ruffalo, Sacha Baron Cohen, Kenan Thompson, Amy Schumer and Olivia Munn among those manning the phones.

There have been dozens more such events, with those from every corner of the entertainment industry coming together for a final Biden push.

“We actually talked to the campaign when we first brought them the idea and we were like 'Is doing this on October 24 too late?,’” says Ben Blacker, a writer who co-produced the Wet Hot American Summer event. “They said no, there is no ‘too late’ this year. We need to constantly be telling people that this election matters more than any election in your lifetime, and in many lifetimes. Right up until the minute you drop your ballot in the box or in the mail or whatever, we need to be telling people how important this is.”

And while that all-hands approach is likely reflective of many factors surrounding this election, including complications with mail-in voting rules and pandemic restrictions, the memory of Clinton’s loss four years ago is also fueling organizers and talent.

“We all went through the 2016 election where it seemed like we had an open and shut case, and it was far from it," says Wet Hot American Summer director David Wain. “And there's this other obvious insane situation where we feel like if Biden wins, but not by much, then we're opening ourselves up for some kind of bizarre misinformation civil war. The safest, best scenario would be that he wins by a lot, which is crazy to say.”

Adds Blacker, “I think everyone this time is saying, ‘Let's not get fooled again. Let's do everything within our power, even though it may be limited, to help where we can.’”

And much of the last-minute push is backed by plenty of planning; America Ferrera, who co-hosted broadcast special "Every Vote Counts" with Kerry Washington and Alicia Keys on Oct. 29, says she and many other activists have spent the last four years organizing and building relationships with experts on the ground to deliver a Democratic win in 2020. "It is about strategy and about taking what we have learned that works, and also what doesn’t work, and being smart enough to evolve our strategies so that we’re being as impactful as we possibly can be," says Ferrera, who has also been visiting key states in the final weeks to drum up the Latinx vote.

Field Team 6, a nonprofit focused on registering Democrats in battleground states and run by former TV writer and producer Jason Berlin, also has had a packed schedule leading up to Election Day, after hosting a voting conversation between Jim Parsons, Laurie Metcalf and Joe Mantello on Oct. 27 and a virtual text banking event with Shonda Rhimes on Oct. 29.

“2016 taught us to never be complacent again,” says Berlin. “Field Team 6 is all gas, no brakes until we explode across that finish line — texting, calling, and registering every last potential Democrat right up to close of polls on Election Day. This battle's not just for a candidate, it’s for the democracy itself.”

Stefanie Brown James, co-founder of The Collective PAC — which supports Black candidates in races all across the country — co-produced the star-studded “Zoom Where It Happens” series, which spanned six episodes of Black casts recreating episodes from Golden Girls, Friends and Sanford and Son. On Oct. 27, the production team, which included Tessa Thompson, Cynthia Erivo, Kerry Washington, Rashida Jones, Issa Rae, Ava DuVernay and new Warner Bros. TV chairman Channing Dungey, aired its final episode, a table read of A Different World starring Thompson, Yara Shahidi and Storm Reid. The last episode raised funds and awareness for women’s activist group Supermajority.

“We are leaving nothing to chance this election. ‘Zoom Where It Happens’ is all about engaging Black voters in this process because our voice matters and may very well decide this election,” James says. “With more than a quarter of a million viewers since we've launched the ‘Zoom Where It Happens series,’ we know that we've been able to galvanize viewers to the polls.” James adds that the group has particularly focused on centering Black men’s voices in their work, as the demographic is one of the most pivotal to this election and recent polling suggests a record number of Black men may not vote this year.

And with less than a week to go until Election Day, even Nov. 3 itself will be used to round up procrastinating voters. Broadway actors Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley will host a 10-hour Election Day Vote-A-Thon on Tuesday, streaming on YouTube with performances and appearances from Annette Bening, Vanessa Williams, Bellamy Young, Marcia Cross and Jessie Mueller. The event, which will also support the Actors Fund, will make one final push “to encourage our colleagues to vote with purpose, and to make their voices heard," says Bening.

Cross says she's particularly spurred on by memories of Election Day 2016, when she cast her vote for Clinton — with her young daughters by her side —  right before getting on a plane to go play President Claire Haas on ABC's Quantico. "I was elated. 'My God,' I thought, 'life is amazing. I am voting for our first female president and about to play one on TV!' Cut to waking up in my hotel room in NYC, on a bleak and drizzly morning, to the news that Donald Trump was our President," she says. "The searing pain and disbelief I felt at that moment is trivial to what our nation has suffered since his swearing in."

Cross continues, "Everyone I know is working day and night, in any and every way possible to make sure that we do not wake up to what certainly would be the end of America as we once knew it. This election, I again want my daughters to witness a historic moment: the one where we take back the United States from a would-be dictator and start to reunite and heal this flawed but beautiful country."