Oil Keeps Spilling but Stars Are Slow to Come

Stephen Colbert, Kevin Costner and Ed Norton are among the few stars involved.

June 10, 2010 — -- After Katrina, they flocked to New Orleans. After Haiti, they tweeted and telethoned.

But for the most part, more than 50 days after a BP oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, the celebrity kingdom's not doing much.

Hollywood, usually quick to turn a crisis into a cause, remains relatively removed from the oil spill that began April 20. No rallies. No telethons. No tear-jerking "Oprah" special; no Brad Pitt wearing waders, wiping down oily pelicans. With a handful of exceptions, the celebrity response has been no response at all.

Why? For a town of performers, this particular tragedy may be lacking in drama.

Actor Edward Norton, who recently launched Crowdrise, an online platform that uses social networking to raise funds for a variety of causes, including the oil spill, speculated that the seeming lack of a human element is keeping Hollywood from diving into the crisis.

"I think that at the moment it feels, with the exception of the tragedy of the explosion itself and the loss of life, it feels environmental, not like a human tragedy," Norton told ABCNews.com at the Mashable Media Summit in New York City this week.

There has been talk: Actor Kevin Costner testified at Wednesday's House committee on Science and Technology hearing on Capitol Hill, saying he can provide an oil-separating technology "that is available immediately, a technology that will allow rigs to resume operation and put people back to work." Director Spike Lee urged President Obama on CNN to "go off," while actor Ted Danson proclaimed "no more ocean drilling."

And there has been some action. On Monday's edition of "The Colbert Report," Stephen Colbert declared that everytime he said the word "bing," the Microsoft search engine of the same name would donate $2,500 to oil-spill cleanup efforts. He managed to say "bing" 40 times in the subsequent 20 minutes (best usage: "Bing is a great Web site for doing Internet Web searches. I know that because I Googled it"), thereby raising $100,000 for a new charity, the Colbert Nation Gulf of America Fund. (Notably not the Gulf of Mexico fund because, as Colbert said, "We broke it, we bought it.")

Actress Victoria Principal donated $200,000 to Oceana and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Director James Cameron solicited advice for the Obama administration from underwater technology experts. Gulf Aid, a May 16 concert in New Orleans featuring John Legend, Lenny Kravitz, Mos Def and Ani DiFranco, raised more than $300,000 for the Gulf Relief Foundation.

No Grand Displays for Oil Spill

Worthy efforts, yes. But they're small potatoes compared to the haul Hollywood brought in after Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake.

In the days after January's earthquake, actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt dropped $1 million on Doctors Without Borders. Madonna coughed up $250,000 for Partners in Health. In 2005, after Katrina, producer-rapper Sean "Diddy" Combs and rapper-businessman Jay-Z jointly donated $1 million to the Red Cross. Actor Nicolas Cage also gave $1 million.

It all added up. As of last month, according to Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy, donations to help Haiti amassed $1.3 billion, while dollars for Hurricane Katrina amounted to $5.3 billion.

Beyond the money, the grand displays stars made after Katrina and Haiti garnered attention. For the former, actor John Travolta revved up his private plane and jetted down to Baton Rouge, food supplies and tetanus vaccines in tow. Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey cut short her summer vacation to visit New Orleans and "personally assess how I could be best of service." At the NBC telethon to raise money for Katrina victims, rapper-producer Kanye West proclaimed that President Bush didn't care about black people.

Haiti also inspired a star-studded telethon, co-hosted by actor George Clooney and featuring some of music's biggest names, including Jay-Z, Bono, Alicia Keys and Justin Timberlake. Rapper Wyclef Jean made it the subject of one of the most ambitious text message and Twitter campaigns to date.

Haiti and Katrina got Pitt and Jolie, Clooney and West. The oil spill gets John Tesh and Sophie B. Hawkins.

Tesh, the Grammy award winning singer, just launched the Adopt a Fisherman project to support fishing families in Venice, La. Hawkins, who crooned the 1992 pop hit "Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover," is donating all proceeds of her new single, "The Land, the Sea, the Sky," to the charity Water Keepers' Alliance, along with proceeds from three upcoming concerts.

"This could be the worst catastrophe of our lives and no one is acting fast enough," Hawkins said in an interview with ABCNews.com. "It is shocking me. I was at an event last night in Hollywood simply to promote my single and the fact that all proceeds from it are going to the oil spill and people acted like they had never heard of this crisis."

Loss of Life Not the Same

To be fair, the loss of human life from the oil spill doesn't compare to the hundreds that died after Hurricane Katrina or the hundreds of thousands that died in the Haiti Earthquake. Norton speculated that may be why Hollywood's hesitant to latch on.

"It's very easy to say, 'My money can help take medical supplies to these people who are suffering,' he said. "But I think people look at something like the oil spill and they sense that enormous corporations and government agencies are struggling with what to do and they think, 'What can I do?'"

What they can do: donate money, fly down to the Gulf, proclaim that they care. For those looking for a human hook, Hawkins pointed to the future.

"We're going to be so sick, we're going to be so toxic," she said. "Our children are not going to have oceans. There are so many people who could be doing so much.

"And I just don't think they know. We should be going in bus loads and plane loads with hay and soaking up this stuff. We have to act like pirates."