Celebs and Charity: Trendiness or Benevolence?


Jan. 14, 2007 — -- Bono, Madonna, Oprah, George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie -- they're all part of a parade of celebrity activists turning their attention to Africa.

But some are asking what these celebrities are really achieving? And what are their motivations?

This week in Hollywood, ABC News visited the latest example of Hollywood's largesse toward Africa -- the star-studded premiere of a small, documentary that would never have seen the light of day were it not for celebrities.

The film, called "God Grew Tired Of Us," is about the so-called "Lost Boys" of Sudan -- young boys driven from their homes during a civil war in Sudan in the 1980s, who then struggled to adapt to life in the U.S.

During the project, director Christopher Quinn went broke and the film nearly died. But Quinn called his childhood friend, Dermot Mulroney, star of such films as "My Best Friend's Wedding" and "Young Guns." Mulroney, in turn, called his friend, Brad Pitt, who wired money the next day.

"I was fortunate to come in at kind of the last minute and get to throw up the last shot," Pitt said.

Yet, while Pitt, Clooney and Bono are lauded for their African activism, other celebrities are taking flack.

Madonna was criticized for adopting a boy from Malawi who, it turned out, already had a dad. And Oprah was challenged for spending $40 million on a school in South Africa instead the United States.

"You can concentrate on all sides of the pond," Pitt said, regarding such criticisms. "I believe one doesn't cancel out the other."

Pitt's partner in activism, Jolie, added, "Our kids are going to grow up in the world and we better focus on doing what we can."

There are questions over whether celebrity activists are motivated by charity or publicity. In late 2006, The New York Times ran an article about celebrity activists with the headline, "Misery Chic."

Dermot Mulroney's reaction?

"Well, if they can't find something more important to write about, then maybe they should have fewer pages in the newspaper," he said.

"There's always going to be cynicism," said Nicole Kidman, who narrates "God Grew Tired of Us." "You are always going to get flak. You just are. That's a part of it. Be willing to take the shots. Be willing to keep doing your bit, because if you've been given an enormous amount in life, it is your duty to give back."

Even some critics admit that celebrities can get the public to pay attention to issue that politicians and the press are ignoring.

"Celebrities have the power to convince other people to follow them," said Trent Stamp, who runs a charity watchdog group.

But, he added, that's just the first step.

"Celebrities are great at raising money, but they may not know how to spend the money," he said.

In the 1980s, the Live Aid concert raised millions of dollars, but most of that money was wasted and none of the underlying problems were solved.

But Quinn and the "lost boys" whose story he tells in the film that opened this weekend says this time, at least, celebrity money was not wasted, that it was well spent.

While standing next to Nicole Kidman at the premiere this past week, one of the "lost boys," Daniel Abul Pach, said, "I hope there will be no more people dying again. It's going to change, really."

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