Star power sometimes sells suffering short
Hollywood started the war, now must DiCaprio save Botswana?
Whether or not I ever see the film, I expect I’ll be learning a thing or two from The Blood Diamond.
The Hollywood drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio is scheduled for release in theatres this month. It is raising awareness about something that has been a mere blip on our radars.
With this film, the concept of “conflict diamonds” is given shape, has colour, bleeds and feels pain.
It also has the diamond industry coughing up millions to counter its claims.
The World Diamond Council is spending US$15 million on an awareness campaign funded by heavyweights like South Africa’s De Beers.
The Blood Diamond is set in the African nation of Sierra Leone.
Between 1989 and 2003, 400,000 people in Sierra Leone and Liberia were killed and thousands more were maimed as a result of civil conflicts largely attributed to diamond mining in the region.
Former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who is awaiting trial before a UN tribunal for crimes against humanity, ignited the war when he armed a notorious Sierra Leonean rebel group in exchange for so-called “blood diamonds.”
Part of the discourse resulting from the film that has De Beers trembling comes in the form of a letter to DiCaprio from San Bushmen in Botswana, the world’s biggest diamond producer and where De Beers has a major company.
They want the actor to help them to return to their ancestral land from which they say they were chased for the sake of diamonds.
“Friends have told us that you are in a film, The Blood Diamond, which shows how badly diamonds can hurt,” the publicly released letter says.
“We know this. When we were chased off our land, officials told us it was because of the diamond finds.”
Who knows what will come of their plea, or what effects the movie will have on the industry. My bet is, unfortunately, nothing.
What’s done is done. The rich and powerful are now more rich and powerful; the poor are poorer and more desperate — or else dead. The information campaign has come too late.
I would like to believe that DiCaprio can make a difference. I would also like to believe that the so-called activism of Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts and Alec Baldwin will succeed because it is imbued with Star Power. Because, honestly and sadly, what is more powerful than that?
I believed Sean Penn when I read his 2004 diary from the warring streets of Iraq.
I believed Sally Struthers’ pathetic pleas on behalf the Christian Children’s Fund.
I believe in Star Power. I just wish it believed in itself.
At the 16th Annual AIDS conference this fall in Toronto, Bill Clinton and the rest of the star-studded lineup, including actor Richard Gere and Microsoft founder Bill Gates and his wife Melinda, took credit for attracting 3,000 journalists.
And what did those journalists report? Most stories tended not to be about Africa but about the two Bills.
Beyond stealing Africa’s fire, the event insulted the world and dishonoured an entire continent in selecting Clinton in the first place.
Clinton was brought in as the main attraction, praised for using his connections and charisma to help underdeveloped countries buy drugs more cheaply.
However, event organizers chose to forget that, while president, Clinton defended drug companies’ rights to restrict access to life-saving drugs and specifically hindered the efforts of countries like South Africa to legally provide cheaper generic equivalents.
FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) argues that celebrity spotlight too often pushes important history and political context out of the story and sidelines the thousands of people who have dedicated their lives to fighting for the cause, not to mention those suffering because of it.
Where are the stars who are putting the charity before themselves?
Where are the celebrities who are putting their millions or billions into AIDS prevention — and driving a reasonably-priced car and living in a modest mansion because of it
Where is the sacrifice, the suffering in these fights for change, in these life-altering campaigns?
One of the main reasons that DiCaprio won’t change the diamond industry is because his film is historical; most of the diamond companies have already come clean in anticipation of something like The Blood Diamond putting their dirty deeds on the world stage.
But the main reason DiCaprio and his ilk won’t change the world is simply because superstars can’t lead a revolution if they intend on busying themselves primarily with being famous.
Bono is arguably the exception. When it comes to the U2 star lately, it’s hard to imagine how he has any time at all to be a musician.
Not only does he appear to be tireless in his efforts to improve the lot of the Third World, but his efforts are often measurable successes.
Bono’s Jubilee Campaign made unprecedented progress in gaining debt relief for Third World countries.
He founded DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) and has the ear of many First World leaders. He founded the One Campaign to fight poverty.
And he helped Bob Geldof organize Live 8, an awareness rather than fundraising campaign which arguably did a bigger favour for mothballed rock stars than the fight against poverty and AIDS.
In Little Rock, Arkansas, last year, at the opening of Bill Clinton’s presidential library, Bono sang, “These are the hands that built America” to four US presidents — George Bush Sr., Jimmy Carter, Clinton, and the incumbent George Bush Jr. — and then singled each one out for their good deeds to Africa.
The optics of that event is a little sickening if you regard it in isolation.
But consider his actions with Bush Jr. six months later.
When the rock star met Bush privately on the eve of the G8 summit at Gleneagles, he asked him to pony up $2 billion extra to bring the pledged aid increases to the level the Commission for Africa had said was needed, and on which diplomatic negotiations had stalled. Bush paid up.
Bono is one of the few celebrities who actually believe in Star Power and who uses it with sophistication.
Like Moses, he herds the masses and incites a frenzy of love for him. Then he takes George W. Bush by the hand and leads him before the mob and invites him to do anything less but show brotherly love and compassion — and obedience.
Bono is the only person to have been nominated for a Grammy, a Golden Globe, an Oscar and the Nobel Peace Prize. But a gold medal for cunning, perhaps, is what he deserves.
Who cares if in fact it takes a staff of 5,000 or more to come up with Bono’s brilliant PR stunts? I say hire 10,000 more and maybe that DiCaprio kid can be recruited to help make a difference too.
Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.