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]