More than any other celebrity activist, Mia Farrow has been the most provocative in pressing for action in Darfur. As a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, she’s challenged leaders, offered to trade in her freedom, and has even questioned the role of Hollywood’s elite.
On her return home this week from a trip to Rwanda and eastern Chad, Farrow sounded cautious on China’s recent move to support a UN resolution to send peacekeepers to Darfur in an effort to end the genocide.
“China has made promising sounds, but the reality is that people on the ground are still suffering,” she wrote via e-mail to Variety. “The words and pieces of paper are, at this point, simply that.”
On Wednesday in Rwanda, Farrow participated in a symbolic torch relay that will travel to countries that have experienced genocide. She has drawn much attention lately as she has linked the crisis to China, Sudan’s No. 1 oil customer, and the international community’s participation in the Beijing Olympics next summer.
She created perhaps the greatest stir when she and her son, Ronan, wrote a Wall Street Journal editorial piece in March, questioning Steven Spielberg’s role as artistic adviser to the Games. Specifically, she warned that unless China did more about the Sudan, Spielberg’s role would be akin to filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s participation in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
In her e-mail, Farrow addressed her approach:
“When it became apparent that Steven Spielberg had agreed to participate in the Olympics as artistic director, I was bewildered. Was it possible that Mr. Spielberg did not know of China’s oil entanglements with Sudan? So I wrote him a letter explaining China’s complicity in the Darfur genocide and how Beijing is underwriting the slaughter in Darfur through their oil investments. Seventy percent of Sudan’s oil revenue from China are used to attack the people of Darfur through the purchase of bombers, attack helicopters, munitions factories, and the arming and training of their militias. China also sells Sudan arms, many of which have been used in Darfur.
“When time passed and I received no response, my son Ronan and I wrote that Wall Street Journal piece.
“Undeniably, Mr. Spielberg is respected throughout the world as a moral figure who has demonstrated genuine commitment to fighting genocide — through the Shoah Foundation and through his fine film ‘Schindler’s List.’ However, through his cooperation with Beijing, Mr. Spielberg lends the Chinese government precisely the moral cover it is seeking.”
(A bit of a clarification: Spielberg is serving as artistic adviser to the Games, on a team that is being led by Chinese director Zhang Yimou.)
When it comes to China, Spielberg’s approach to is more subtle although often very public.
Several days after her Wall Street Journal piece, Spielberg wrote an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao, calling for greater action on Darfur. His rep says that the timing of the letter was coincidental to Farrow’s Wall Street Journal piece. In addition, they say that they never heard from Farrow before it was written. So something was lost in translation.
Moreover, his reps say that the director has been well aware of the crisis in Darfur and has been pressing for ways to stop it, working with the likes of George Clooney and Don Cheadle.
His political adviser, Andy Spahn, says that they are in the process of setting up a face to face meeting with Chinese officials, although none is scheduled yet. A wave of stories last month suggested that Spielberg was considering pulling out of the Games. Although Spielberg has made no public statement as such, China did support the UN resolution. It’s debatable as it is to whether Spielberg, Farrow or the activist community had any influence.
Like Farrow, Spielberg and his team are encouraged by some of China’s recent moves, but much depends on what happens on the ground in Darfur in the coming months.
“We are pleased that the new resolution passed, but we have been in this place before,” Farrow says. “Just one year ago, the UN passed an excellent resolution (1706) yet nearly 12 long months later no one has come to protect the people of Darfur and eastern Chad.”