A dire consequence of Africa’s extreme poverty is the pervasiveness of HIV/AIDS on the continent. The numbers are immense: more than 40 million people infected with HIV/AIDS worldwide, with the vast majority in Africa. An estimated 9,000 Africans die each day from AIDS.
“In the midst of an incredible emergency, there’s a momentum to truly end poverty in Africa,” says Trevor Neilson, exec director of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS.
“There’s a new level of energy around this issue, in Hollywood and around the world, with the realization that it’s relatively easy to make a real impact,” adds Neilson, who is also a board member of Debt, Aid, Trade, Africa. DATA is the parent org of the One Campaign, which has brought many celebs into advocacy roles for Africa.
“If Chris Tucker or Bono or Brad Pitt go to Africa, we can get a whole new audience to be concerned there,” says Neilson.
The recent Live 8 broadcast included thesp-populated PSAs promoting the One Campaign’s message of world interconnectedness.
When celebs advocate, audiences pay attention. “In the world we live in now, celebrity association has become a must,” says LaTanya Richardson Jackson, a board member of the nonprofit Artists for a New South Africa. Along with husband Samuel L. Jackson, Richardson has seen firsthand the devastation caused by AIDS in South Africa, including the untold number of children orphaned by the virus.
The couple helped ensure that ANSA was one of the beneficiaries of the Los Angeles “Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith” premiere, garnering $1 million.
Jackson recommends that people become educated about what’s going on and then act: “In my opinion, our good works reflect (on us) as well as the bad things we do. The more friends we can enlist in that way the better off we’re all going to be in the future.”
Although Africa is a focal point in the fight against AIDS, the continent’s troubles — such as the war in Rwanda lately dramatized by Oscar-nommed film “Hotel Rwanda” — have been relegated to back-page stories, Jackson says.
In June, Pitt’s appearance on ABC News’ “Primetime Live” instantly doubled primetime news coverage spent on Africa this year.
“It’s a heartbreaking, heart-wrenching reality that people are dying in such huge numbers,” says helmer Rory Kennedy, whose HBO docu “Pandemic” chronicles the disease’s reach.
“In the face of such horror, it’s resources and education that make the difference,” notes Kennedy, who found that funding to those hardest hit is often limited by ideology and politics.
Kennedy believes that once people learn about the devastation of AIDS in Africa, they will be compelled to do something about it. To heighten interest, she used Elton John to narrate her multipart doc. “The reality is that celebs draw attention.”
Marshall Stowell, deputy director of YouthAIDS, explains that although he’s been to places without running water, there will still be access to television. “People are aware of Hollywood and we leverage that to get life saving messages out.”
Ashley Judd is YouthAIDS’ global ambassador. She recently testified in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on behalf of the org. “She’s a door-opener for us and she realizes her celebrity brings us places we might not get on our own,” notes Stowell.
Judd’s visible commitment also helps the org raise funds.
Although many are cynical about celebs’ commitment to cause, many others feel the opposite.
“We protest the idea the world can be the way it is and we do not have a voice in helping it to be better,” Richardson says.