Celebrity activism making policy, not just headlines
When Don Cheadle made his star turn in 2004’s Hotel Rwanda, he attracted the attention of not only Academy Award voters, but also a legion of followers wanting to know more about the horrific 1994 genocide that cost more than 800,000 lives in a 100-day killing spree. The film arrived at a particular political moment: just as the 10th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide brought promises of “never again” from governments whose neglect drove the 1994 tragedy, the armed conflict in Darfur, Sudan, emerged as the next genocide to rock the continent.
Like many celebs before and after, Cheadle could have ridden out the moment, boosted his box office numbers and moved on. But two years later, the 42-year-old actor remains one of the most effective and outspoken critics on the genocide in Darfur. He has lent his name and voice to raise awareness about the brutal and systemic violence against women while rallying other celebrity friends to the cause.
But perhaps most significantly, he’s supporting divestment strategies across the country that are forcing significant players, like the state of California, to pull money out of the country until the government moves to stop the genocide that has already cost 100,000 lives and displaced more that one million people from their homes. Unlike most of the feel-good gloss of Hollywood politics, Cheadle is actually working to change policy to directly impact one of the most dramatic instances of racial injustice in our lifetime.
He may have said it best in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece co-authored with John Prendergast of the International Crisis Group: “What is the real reason why the U.S. has not responded as it should have? The truth is that combating crimes against humanity is simply not considered a national security issue…We need to make it a little warmer, a little more uncomfortable for those politicians who would look away. Just a few more degrees. Just a few more thousand letters. It is, frankly, that simple.”
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