Dwayne Johnson has apologized for “disgusting” actions he recently took that were viewed by many as completely insensitive toward members of the American working class.
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has been facing outrage and harsh criticism from people on social media following the announcement of an initiative he took alongside former talk show host and Disney Legend Oprah Winfrey in late August to help with relief efforts after a series of wildfires destroyed much of the small town of Lahaina on the island of Maui in Hawaii.
The 2023 Hawaii Firestorm
In early August 2023, several wildfires broke out on the island of Maui in the state of Hawaii. In what is referred to as the Hawaii Firestorm by the federal government, the wind-driven fires spread quickly, leading to evacuations of visitors and residents in the area and causing widespread catastrophic damage to life and property.
On August 8, the governor enacted an emergency declaration for Hawaii, which allowed for the mobilization of the Hawaii National Guard and authorized action to be taken by Hawaii’s Emergency Management Agency. The declaration also allowed for the state’s revenue funds to be used in relief efforts. By Wednesday, August 9, more than 14,000 people were without power because of the fires that continued to rage, fanned continually by winds from Hurricane Dora hundreds of miles away.
Early in the morning of August 12, firefighters announced that the blazes were 100% contained. The fires, which had begun only five days earlier, had left massive swaths of destruction in their wake.
At least 98 people lost their lives in the firestorm, and more than 30 people were reported missing in the town of Lahaina, located on the northwest coast of Maui. More than 2,200 structures were damaged or completely destroyed in the flames. The severity of the fires was influenced greatly by dry and dusty conditions in the region that were created by a strong high-pressure area north of the state of Hawaii and Hurricane Dora, which was churning south of the Aloha State.
Many in the mainland United States wondered what they could do to help in the relief efforts, and some celebrities, like actor Dwayne Johnson and Oprah Winfrey, took the first crucial steps toward raising funds to be used in those efforts. But not everyone in the affected areas was pleased with their efforts.
The People’s Fund of Maui
To kick off the initiative, Johnson and Winfrey started the People’s Fund of Maui by donating a combined total of $10 million to help those affected by the fires in Lahaina. They followed by encouraging others to contribute to the fund, the proceeds from which would be used to help with the effects of the sheer devastation caused by the fires in the small Hawaiian town.
In an Instagram video posted on August 31, Johnson and Winfrey shared news of the newly created People’s Fund of Maui. In the video, the celebrity duo said that in times of disaster, the one thing people need more than anything is money–specifically, “money in hand” so they can make decisions for themselves and their families about what their needs are and how best to go about meeting those needs.
Public Outrage Ensues
But despite their charitous efforts to quickly put money directly into the hands of those hardest hit by the fires in Lahaina, the pair was met nearly immediately with harsh criticism for their efforts. Though Winfrey and Johnson had already pledged $10 million to get the proverbial ball rolling, many on social media were enraged that they would ask for donations from people “living paycheck to paycheck.”
“When we first launched the fund, there was some backlash,” Johnson admitted in a video shared on Instagram.
Some criticized the requests for donations, finding fault with one of the wealthiest self-made women in America and one of the country’s highest-paid actors for asking members of the working class to make donations to a charity.
“We can’t afford it, but you can!” one person commented. Another person responded, saying, “You guys make more in a day than I’ll make in my lifetime. I believe in you.”
“Skipping the electric bill for groceries this week,” another person wrote. “But you two got this.”
“This is disgusting,” still another wrote. “Ask other celebrities.”
Others went so far as to suggest that the celebrity do-gooders set up the fund solely for its publicity value.
“The Rock” Apologizes & Promises to “Be Better”
As the controversy and outrage over Johnson’s and Winfrey’s requests for donations has continued to grow, Dwayne Johnson has responded by stepping up to apologize for his actions, saying he “could have done better” in his efforts to encourage donations to the People’s Fund of Maui and saying that he identifies with the upset surrounding the fund since he once struggled to make ends meet himself.
“I understand money ain’t falling out of the sky, and it’s not growing on trees,” the former wrestler-turned-actor said. “There’s a lot of people out there who’s living paycheck to paycheck, and I get it, and I know what that’s like. I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck. Seven bucks. I know.”
Johnson referenced “seven bucks,” which is the name of his production company–but only because before he made it as a professional wrestler, he was nearly penniless and tells of the day when he only had seven bucks in his pocket–and to his name.
In his apology, The Rock empathized with those who were angry, adding that he remembers how “easily p—— off” and “frustrated” he felt at times when he was struggling to keep his head above the water financially.
A Silver Lining . . .
Despite the controversy surrounding Johnson’s involvement in the People’s Fund of Maui, there’s some good news for those in Lahaina who are just beginning to try to put their lives back together.
In an Instagram post over the weekend, the former wrestler said that he had received numerous messages from survivors who had already begun receiving disbursements from the fund, and he praised the people of Maui, saying that their strength “is beautiful and inspiring.”
I’m so grateful and moved by all the messages I’m receiving out of Maui from the survivors of the devastating wildfires who are now getting their personal funding from The People’s Fund of Maui.
The strength of our people of Maui is beautiful and inspiring. Watching families and community come together after this tragedy is inspirational and I’m proud of our Polynesian people. Thank you to everyone who has helped by sending resources, love, and prayers to all people affected by the fires and a loving mahalo and RESPECT to our OG cultural leaders, our local community organizations, and all our first responders and every person who came together to help our people.
The relief is clearly desperately needed by those most affected by the Lahaina fires. West Maui is reportedly beginning to open to tourists now, two months after the fires destroyed so much of the area. The openings come as thousands are still displaced after they lost their homes and possessions in the blazes in August.