Spielberg Presses Chinese on Darfur



Steven Spielberg is awaiting signs of progress in his efforts to convince the Chinese government to change course in Darfur and take a harder line on Sudan.

His political adviser, Andy Spahn, said on Thursday that “if the dialogue we are having proves to be unproductive, we will consider other options.” ABCNews.com reported that Spielberg was mulling whether to quit his post as an artistic adviser to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, but Spahn said that the report was “misleading” and that he never mentioned Spielberg’s Olympics post to the news outlet as a factor. “We haven’t commented on that,” he said.

Spielberg had written an open letter in March to Hu Jintao, president of China, asking the country to change its policy and to pressure the Sudanese government to allow U.N. peacekeepers to protect the victims of Darfur.

China is Sudan’s largest oil customer, and Spielberg is one of a number of industry figures and activists who have called on the Chinese government to take action. But his position in the Olympics puts him in a unique role.

In his letter, Spielberg wrote, “I am writing this letter to you, not as one of the overseas artistic advisers to the Olympic Ceremonies, but as a private citizen who has made a personal commitment to do all I can to oppose genocide.”

Spahn said that they are working “everyday with the Darfur activist community.” He said that they “have followed up on Steven’s letter to the president” and may know “in a couple of weeks whether this path is proving productive.”

Just days before his letter, actress and Darfur activist Mia Farrow wrote a Wall Street Journal editorial in March asking Spielberg, because of his position with the Olympics, to take action or be accused of complicity. She wrote, “Is Mr. Spielberg, who in 1994 founded the Shoah Foundation to record the testimony of survivors of the Holocaust, aware that China is bankrolling Darfur’s genocide?” She went further and said that the director risked becoming the “Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing games.”

Spahn said that the timing of Spielberg’s letter to the Chinese president was coincidental. Farrow never spoke to them before writing her editorial, Spahn says, but he has exchanged e-mails with her. Among other things, he has explained how vested the director has been in trying to do something about the Darfur crisis and other issues of genocide, he said.

Farrow has since told NPR, “My intention was never to hurt Steven Spielberg. My intention was to move things. Something had to move. He couldn’t do that without knowing.”  And in a story in Slate this week, she told Slate’s Kim Masters of her efforts, “I think the flags are flying at half-mast over at my management. But I’m not risking my life. Maybe I’m risking my career. It’s a pittance. We’re talking about millions of lives at stake.”

So ultimately, Spielberg, Farrow and a host of other industry figures are on the same page when it comes to doing something about Darfur. The question is whether China, as it tries to put its best foot forward for the Olympics, will as well.

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