Spielberg Quits Role In Olympic Ceremonies

By William Booth and Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, February 13, 2008

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 12 -- The director Steven Spielberg has quit as an artistic adviser for the Beijing Olympic Games, citing China's close ties to the government of Sudan, and the continued killing and displacement of people in Darfur.

Spielberg, who is currently working on the latest installment of the Indiana Jones film franchise, was planning to add his considerable cinematic talents and, as important, his brand-name credentials to the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games in August, acts laden with symbolism that will be televised for a global television audience likely to reach a billion people.

Spielberg had been under increasing pressure in the past year from activists rallying for the Darfur cause. The filmmaker announced his decision to pull out of the Games on Tuesday only hours after actress Mia Farrow and former Olympic swimmers Shannon Shakespeare and Nikki Dryden delivered an open letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Chinese mission to the United Nations in New York. The letter, signed by eight Nobel Peace Prize laureates, 13 Olympic athletes and 46 parliamentarians, criticized China for its support of the Sudanese regime in Khartoum.

Farrow criticized Spielberg, saying the director "lent his mantle to an undeserving recipient." Previously, Farrow said that Spielberg risked being this generation's Leni Riefenstahl if he continued to help the Chinese stage the ceremonies. (Riefenstahl was Hitler's filmmaker who chronicled the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.)

In his statement released Tuesday, Spielberg said: "My time and energy must be spent not on Olympic ceremonies, but on doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur. Sudan's government bears the bulk of the responsibility for these on-going crimes but the international community, and particularly China, should be doing more to end the continuing human suffering there."

The document continued: "China's economic, military and diplomatic ties to the government of Sudan continue to provide it with the opportunity and obligation to press for change. The situation has never been more precarious -- and while China's representatives have conveyed to me that they are working to end the terrible tragedy in Darfur, the grim realities of the suffering continue unabated."

There has been a surge in violence in Darfur and neighboring Chad in recent weeks, which has been accompanied by more pressure on the Chinese government from activists who see the Chinese as enablers of the Sudanese regime. China shares close economic and military ties with Sudan: It purchases two-thirds of Sudan's oil exports and sells weapons to the Sudanese government. The United Nations estimates that more than 200,000 people have died and more than 2 million have been displaced during four years of conflict.

Spielberg's statement was immediately embraced by Darfur activists, who include not only Farrow but some of the most popular actors in Hollywood, such as Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt and George Clooney, who recently returned from a U.N.-sponsored trip to Chad.

"Spielberg's decision to withdraw from the Olympic Games is huge because it underscores how costly China's patronage of Khartoum is becoming," said Jerry Fowler, president of the Save Darfur Coalition. "Beijing can now better understand the high cost of looking the other way while al-Bashir wages a campaign of destruction and violence. As the Beijing Olympic Games approach, China will see more and more how lonely it is being Sudan's largest benefactor and political defender." Omar Hassan al-Bashir is president of Sudan.

John Prendergast, co-chair of the group Enough, an initiative to end genocide and crimes against humanity, said Spielberg's announcement "comes like a bolt of lightning. . . . Spielberg's announcement adds significant weight to efforts to get China to get off the fence about the crimes being committed in Darfur."

"Steven Spielberg has acted with great moral principle in withdrawing his participation in the Beijing games to stand up for the people of Darfur," said Jill Savitt, executive director of Dream for Darfur and a Save Darfur Coalition board member. "Mr. Spielberg's decision had to be difficult, but it is morally unassailable. China has had ample opportunity to help intercede in Darfur, but has refused to use its influence to end the human catastrophe. Through this act, Mr. Spielberg has joined his voice with those of activists, Nobel laureates, Olympic athletes and elected officials worldwide who this week are renewing the call for more action to end the violence and suffering in Darfur."

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