By Emily Feimster and Stacy Jenel Smith
With the low ratings and critical jeers that greeted the recent multi-continent Live Earth concerts, it's become undeniable: there's a backlash against celebrities brandishing causes these days. Accusations of publicity-mongering and sanctimony flew - not to mention all the derisive notes about how the shows released more carbon emissions than usual into the ozone layer.
On another front, Angelina Jolie's vaunted humanitarianism, from her travels to Africa, South America, the Middle East and elsewhere on behalf of the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees, to her adoption of impoverished babies from other lands, is ever-more frequently written about as a ploy to take the public's mind of the scandals of her personal life.
And how many children have you taken in lately, Mr. or Ms. Skeptical Critic/Talk Show Pundit? How many journeys have you taken to poverty-stricken, dangerous places the world would like to forget?
Before this bleating and eye rolling gets any worse, it's a good time to remember how far-reaching the charitable efforts of the show business contingent continue to be.
"In school, I wasn't really taught about philanthropy or giving back, and I now consider myself a philanthropist," claims director Brett Ratner, who is on the board of Chrysalis - a foundation, which helps people in need. "I think it's important to get involved, especially for young celebrities. There are so many young people in Hollywood who are so successful who can give back and really make a difference - not only themselves giving money, but being an example for other people to give."
Kenny Alphin - a.k.a. Big Kenny of country's ultra-popular Big & Rich duo - also believes "Anyone who has the power of the spotlight or the pen can remind people, we need to keep it shining for the good." The duo has been putting efforts into a film called "The Devil Came on Horseback," which deals with the genocide in Darfur. Unveiled at this year's Sundance Festival, it contains footage smuggled out of Sudan bearing witness to atrocities carried out as the genocide continues. Big & Riches' efforts would certainly make the likes of Angelina Jolie, Oprah, and Bono proud, all of whom have worked tirelessly to bring Africa's plights to the forefront.
They're certainly not the only ones using TV, film, and music to get world issues across. Reports have it that Jude Law will soon be flying off to war-torn Afghanistan with fellow Brit Jeremy Gilley to film a documentary for BBC. The pair will spend time with Afghan children as they record preparations by children's charity UNICEF for Peace Day. Charlize Theron recently produced the documentary "East of Havana," which shows the difficulties people are facing in Cuba. Then there's Daryl Hannah, who has worked to help end the problem of sexual slavery and is traveling around the world to make a documentary about it.
Of course there are those who have been relying on different forms of media to bring important global issues to light as well. In 2005, Cameron Diaz hosted an environmental documentary television series on MTV called "Trippin," where she and her celebrity friends visited various ecological locales around the world. She also gave tips as to how people can be more environmentally friendly. Committed environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio, is following suit with the documentary film "11th Hour," which highlights the state of the natural environment.
Meanwhile, a phalanx of notables including Gary Sinise, Henry Rollins and Regis Philbin give time and energy to support troops with visits and performances - celebs who oppose the war and those who don't.
"Being a celebrity is good for a couple of things," notes Jamie Lee Curtis, who gives her time to the John Wayne Cancer Institute and the Starlight Starbright Foundation. "You can get good tickets to events and reservations when others cannot. And more important, you get to reflect back the media you get onto something you care about. I appreciate the obscene amount of attention a celebrity gets for, honestly, doing the right thing - and by the way, doing a nano-fraction of what millions of people do as volunteers."
Even the likes of Paris Hilton, whose jail sentence was covered by every major news outlet known to man, realized that she could turn that attention into something good. She used her post-jail interview with Larry King to talk of how she'd like to open up a halfway house for women, who keep going in and out of jail because they haven't been given the means to make it on their own. Let's just hope she follows this new path before the Hollywood hotspots come calling her name!
"I think all of us in the media have an extra responsibility because we understand how the media works," adds co-CEO of New Line Cinema, Michael Lynne, who recently received the Humanitarian Award from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.
"Presumably we can communicate in a way that other people may not have the facility to do and that creates a responsibility."
However, not all of those in the public eye have chosen to be so vocal about their charity work. Yes, there are those who give anonymously - and for countless stars, quietly visiting with sick and or needy people is a regular part of life.
"I was really suspicious of celebrities who used charity to get publicity," explains Jewel, the once homeless musician, whose Project Clear Water organization, which she's funded privately, has put clean water wheels into impoverished areas since 1997. More recently Jewel began to see the advantages of going public. She even spoke at a U.S. Congressional hearing as part of her work on behalf of Richard Branson's Virgin Unite's Youth Homelessness Campaign.
In the end, whether celebrities choose to give back in the form of money, time, events, or documentaries, it all serves an important purpose. We're just glad to see these folks using their fame for good. After all, our world needs it.
Marilyn Beck and Stacy Jenel Smith are featured in over 100 print publications and other media outlets with cutting edge celebrity news and insider scoop. Have a burning showbiz question?
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