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Oscar Swag From the Do-Gooders: The Orange Ribbon

Julie Christie's Close Guantanamo ribbon coordinated nicely with her wine-red gown.
Julie Christie's Close Guantanamo ribbon coordinated nicely with her wine-red gown. (By Francis Specker -- Bloomberg News)
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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Oscars are all about product placement, those delectable swag bags filled to bursting with Montblanc pens, with Heather Hyde jewelry, with Icelandic Glacial bottled water. Get a starlet to bust out the giveaway designer doggie duds on the next morning's duty walk with Bruiser, and baby, you've made it.

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On Sunday night, the goody with el primo placement -- right near the collars of Best Actress nominee Julie Christie and two-time winner Paul Haggis -- was an orange ribbon. A cheap, ugly, dear God we thought the age of lapel-activism (AIDS, peace, veterans, breasts) was over ribbon. Or an orange bracelet, a cheap, ugly, when will this rubber fetish quit livingstrong -- bracelet. Inscribed with Torture + Silence = Complicity.

These represent the orange jumpsuits worn by Guantanamo prisoners, and call for the closing of the prison, and the cessation of a range of controversial U.S. behaviors. But how did do-gooders get this cause to accessorize the glitterati?

Enter Allison Walker, the entertainment industry liaison for the ACLU (whodathunk!?), which sponsors the Close Guantanamo campaign and distributes the ribbons. Walker is a former talent agent who once worked at William Morris. She left the biz after a spiritually cleansing sabbatical studying orangutans in Borneo, at which point she realized she wanted to use her industry connections to do good.

Having worked in the entertainment industry herself, Walker understands the unique plight of the celeb. "They get asked to do so many things for so many causes," she explained yesterday. The ACLU may have asked regular people "to wear T-shirts with the Close Guantanamo symbol." But ask Helen Mirren to wear a T-shirt? Horrors! No, the celebs must be handled as delicately as a Nothing Bundt Cake (also in the swag bag this year!). "I like to ask things that are simple and specific," says Walker. "The ribbon campaign is a very trusted sign in the artistic community."

So. Walker and her colleague Jenny Egan took out a full-page plea in Variety, which read, in part: "Whether you are walking the picket line, the red carpet or standing on the supermarket line, wear an orange ribbon."

It's simple. It's easy. And you can do it while driving your Prius.

They scheduled the ad for early January to allow stars enough time to consult with their stylists, and stylists enough time to say, "Oh, honey, orange does nothing for you. Can't you support the troops instead? On the other hand, it is a power color!"

Happy day: The ad was spotted by Ren┬┐e Missel, Julie Christie's friend and former manager. "Julie had given me a book" -- "Enemy Combatant," about prisoner treatment at Gitmo, Missel said yesterday. "I read it and went berserk." Missel promptly ordered a bunch of ribbons and approached Christie about wearing one to the Academy Awards. (Haggis got his ribbon and a matching bracelet through the World Can't Wait, an organization that campaigns against torture.)

"Orange isn't the prettiest color," admits Missel, and "other colors had already been taken" by other ribbons.

But Christie had already picked a dress that worked (a deep wine red, ruched, knee-length), and the color coordination turned out to be fabulous.


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