Given how protective he is of his public image, it’s far from surprising that Steven Spielberg is increasingly public about his behind-the-scenes role to convince the Chinese government to influence its largest oil supplier Sudan to stop the Darfur genocide. “We’re making our voice heard,” Spielberg’s political adviser Andy Spahn told me today. He confirmed that they expect a Chinese statement on the issue in the next weeks.
But Spahn denied an ABC News website article today claiming Spielberg is thinking of quitting his post as an unpaid artistic adviser to the 2008 Beijing Olympics in response to pressure from Darfur actrivists. “I made no reference to the Olympics,” Spahn told me. As Spahn explains it, “We are doing what we can to engage the Chinese. We’ll made a decision how productive those efforts are in the very near future.” As to Spielberg continuing his work with the Beijing Olympics, “we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. We’ll look at all our options if that path doesn’t prove to be productive.”
Spahn tells me that Speilberg has been consulting with Darfur activists “every step of the way” of both the crisis and his ongoing private back-and-forth dialogue with the Chinese. “I would say we’ve been in touch with every major organization engaged in this issue as well as leading academics and individuals guiding these organizations. And, in Hollywood, we’ve been in regular touch with George Clooney and Don Cheadle.” (But not Mia Farrow, who recently blindsided Spielberg with public criticism of him on the China/Darfur issue.) The result, says Spahn, is that “we are doing what we can to engage the Chinese on this issue. No one can tell us what the best way to use our influence is today, assuming we have some influence. But we’re working our way through it and attempting to determine how we can make the greatest contribution to ending the genocide.”
Spahn points to “what some say has been some movement there” and cited news reports saying Chinese ministers visited Sudan after Chinese President Hu Jintao received Spielberg’s open letter on Darfur. (“I am writing you not as one of the overseas artistic advisors to the Olympic Ceremonies, but as a private citizen who has made a personal commitment to do all I can to oppose genocide. Accordingly, I add my voice to those who ask that China change its policy toward Sudan and pressure the Sudanese government to accept the entrance of United Nations peacekeepers to protect the victims of genocide in Darfur.” ) But Spahn draws no direct correlation between the two events.
Spielberg’s missive followed Farrow publicly accusing the director of complicity by not using his prominence and position to pressure the Chinese government to change course. “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?” Farrow and her son Ronan wrote in a March Wall Street Journal editorial. “Does Mr. Spielberg really want to go down in history as the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games.”
Spahn would only characterize Farrow’s position as “extreme”.