Why Hasn't Hollywood Rallied for Japan Relief?

The entertainment industry has rallied en masse following some of the world's most devastating recent tragedies, organizing relief efforts for survivors of 9/11, the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, Hurricane Katrina, and last year's earthquake in Haiti. The latter crisis alone prompted -- mere days after the disaster -- a star-studded charity telethon spearheaded by George Clooney and Wyclef Jean and which raised $57 million for the stricken nation. So why, in the wake of last week's 9.0 magnitude Japan earthquake -- and its resulting tsunami and nuclear crisis -- have we heard so little from Hollywood this time around?

A week after the March 11 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami claimed over 6,000 lives (over 10,000 people are still reported missing), destroyed entire cities and ravaged a nuclear power plant to meltdown, no concerted group relief effort has been made in Hollywood.

Instead, we've witnessed individual efforts varying from sympathy tweets to calls for donations via text message (which totaled $2.8 million by Wednesday, according to the American Red Cross) to personal contributions on the part of filmmakers, actors, musicians and corporations. Some celebrities got creative with their support: Lady Gaga began selling "We pray for Japan" bracelets soon after disaster struck, and has raised a reported $250,000 to date. Director Chris Weitz announced early in the week that he'd donate $1 for every Tweet he posted in the month of March -- and he's been Tweeting up a storm. Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda designed two charity T-shirts, one of which is emblazoned with the words, "Not alone." And even before Sandra Bullock stepped up yesterday to publicly announce a personal pledge of $1 million to the American Red Cross, Charlie Sheen promised that $1 of every ticket sold for his upcoming "Violent Torpedo of Truth" tour (which has sold out all of its dates, often in a matter of minutes) would go to the Japanese cause. A number of media corporations including Sony, Disney and Warner Bros. have pledged their support as well.

But in the general populace, as in Hollywood, there seems to be a hesitation to collectively jump to arms. Does America have relief fatigue?

Consider that in the wake of Haiti, dozens of celebrities announced significant personal contributions to charity, leading the cause by example. With her $1 million pledge to Red Cross, Bullock remains the lone major Hollywood figure publicly doing the same for Japan. Veteran publicist Michael Levine points to differing perceptions of Haiti and Japan on the scale of global power -- i.e., Japan isn't some poverty-stricken, underdeveloped country -- as an explanation as to why image-conscious celebrities haven't stepped up as urgently.

"I think celebrities, like all human beings to a larger degree, like feeling heroic," Levine said. "And there's a sense with third-world nations that you can be heroic. Japan is a very wealthy nation, so there's a feeling among some that money into Haiti or Africa is a different kind of poverty, a different kind of relief effort."

One internationally-known filmmaker, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged to Movieline that Japan's superpower status was likely part of the problem, noting further that the best course of action in the ongoing crisis is still relatively unclear.

"The fact that the tragedy is still happening and not over yet, people don't know how to process it," he wrote via e-mail. "We all saw the images on TV and the number of people left stranded, but people are still waiting to see the Tokyo effect from the nuclear fallout." For some reason, he writes, "the urgency seems to be missing."

What differentiates Hollywood's reaction to the Japan crisis from Haiti in terms of organized efforts, he points out, is the lack of a central figure stepping up to lead the charge. "Usually there is a celebrity from the disaster area who really picks up the banner and rallies other celebrities and makes it a reality to us Americans, but who is that giant star [with ties to Japan]?"

It's perhaps the crucial question in all of this: Who is the Clooney/Wyclef of the Japan crisis? Despite commercial and cultural overlap between the United States and Japan -- a pop culture-hungry nation that every major American film star and musician has visited at some point -- the two countries don't have an apparent public figure in common with the personal investment to spur the Hollywood community into action. Add to that reports in publications like the New York Times advocating against immediate donations, and the fact that Japan has injected 37 trillion yen into the economy, which contribute to the perception that maybe Japan doesn't need a celebrity champion after all.

Still, Levine predicts that Bullock's bold move will spark a flurry of celebrity donations. "People lead, and celebrities are silently begging to be led," he said. "When somebody steps up like Sandra Bullock it has a big and significant impact on their own way of being. I think there will be many people in the movie industry that will come forward now that she's done it. I do believe she will make a difference."

[Photo: AFP/Getty Images]


  • misanthropicus says:

    It's not the Hollywood, it's the liberals, stupid -
    So the thing is that liberals love to be adored and praised for their imaginary qualities - and since they sorely miss the colonial age, when one could travel elsewhere and donate to amazed locals (in loincloth & chicked bone through the nose), folding knives, whistles or other trinkets, and be regarded as a god by them, as they do in Africa or Haiti, then return give interviews about this in the USA, this situation doesn't apply for Japan -
    Japanese CAN govern themselves, what they do is generally better than in America, and Seann Penn, Clooney, or Anderson Cooper can't find the grateful background they yearn for there -
    Great nation, Japan - by the way, just compare in two years Japan with Haiti -
    or New Orleans, since we're here -
    Yuk -

  • Ahmet Katzharume says:


  • Brian says:

    Japan doesn't need our money, they have plenty of their own. We've paid for their defense longer that nearly anyone reading this post has been alive, and to show their gratitude they've used unfair trade practices to screw American corporations, resulting in the loss of much of our industrial base and millions of jobs. I doubt that "Hollywood" has taken much of this into consideration, but these are very good reasons to not send money to Japan.

  • dnb says:

    To Hollywood, Japan is like Nashville as Haiti is like New Orleans. One is get up and get to work; the other, put your hand out. Also, Hollywood is extremely racist in where it puts its money.

  • Bronco46 says:

    With the exception of Sandra Bullock; Hollywood doesn't like doing something that doesn't make them look good. If you can (quickly and then get back in your jet) go stand in a destroyed ghetto, and take a picture you feel better about yourself. But since the Japanese seem to be self sufficient a world record earthquake and then a tsunami aren't a big deal; they'll fix it.
    But congrats to Ms. Bullock she put her money where her mouth is.

  • SonicEvolution says:

    Japan isn't as well off as people think. Fewer than half of Japanese homes have earthquake protection, and the policy limits are often well below the cost of rebuilding a dwelling. Much of the coverage is backed by a government-supported pool, called Jisai, instead of being passed off to the global reinsurance market, which protects insurers from large losses. Businesses in Japan don't buy government-backed insurance, relying instead on private insurance. But the coverage isn't included in standard property policies, and the companies that buy the added protection often don't purchase an amount that would cover a total loss. Well that is a bit of a problem as entire towns have been wiped out! If I put any blame on the Japanese. It's having to much confidence in their own defence. Although I can't really blame them for that as we do the same. Oh this won't ever happen to us you say. Yea just keep saying that lol. Oh but Japan is a rich country they can afford it! Ah and were not? So what excuse do we have then lol.
    Japan split between the rich and middle class is quite large. Much larger then US I would say even. Add this to the fact Japan economy has been in the tank for the last 10 years. Add this to a shrinking aging population which isn't helping their situation any. Japan is also suffering from a current severe shortage of doctors, which is leaving some hospitals struggling to cope. This is only compounded now which many are overwhelmed at the current situation. It is just amazing at how nieve so many are here without knowing anything. In retrospect though I have to say that Sandra Bullock is one of the few in Hollywood that actually puts her money where her mouth is. I have so much respect for her. Gwen Stefani also donated $1 million to Save the Children's Japan Earthquake-Tsunami Children Fund. To bad there are more celebrities which have followed suit. Just because this is Japan and not let's say Haiti doesn't mean there aren't people in need. Hundreds of thousands of people are homeless without food, water and basic survival items. Good bless Sandra Bullock , Gwen Stefani and the US military!! That's more I can say for other so called celebrities. Charlie you listening.

  • Joesph Brines says:

    Wow, beautiful pictures! San Francisco looks so beautiful with the blue sky backdrop. Great post! Takes me back to when I was in SF in May (except it seemed foggier then!)

  • Ryan says:

    Hollywood was to busy getting ready for their big one which will happen soon. They are bound for one, that fault line hasn't given off much energy for a long time so when it does it will be massive. With the population that California has I can see a death toll in the millions. Wouldnt bother me any. At least those electoral votes will be slim down a bit so a conservative has a great shot of winning every time.