In the last 20-30 years there has developed a philanthropic culture in Hollywood involving superstars in the movie industry. Cynics are quick to accuse these people of ‘image-making’, or of diverting media attention from potential career-damaging headlines of a personal nature. In some instances that has certainly happened, but the bottom line must surely be acknowledged. Regardless of the reasons, millions of dollars and countless hours of endeavour have been voluntarily poured into attempts to right the many wrongs that exist in our far from perfect world. Issues that have been swept under the carpet for decades are now receiving publicity that only high-profile celebrities can generate and that must surely be a good thing.
Below are listed a selection of people in the movie industry who have given of their time and/or money to assist other human beings incapable of improving their lot without outside assistance. It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a comprehensive list, nor is it compiled in any kind of order of merit. It is, however, indicative of the concern and commitment of the Hollywood community as a whole. I start my list with the first truly high profile star to capture the world’s admiration and respect for her selfless contribution to UNICEF way back in 1988.
Audrey Hepburn was chosen as spokesperson for UNICEF in 1988 and immediately embarked upon the first of over 50 trips to countries all around the world, to see for herself the conditions children in war-torn countries and devastated regions had to endure. On her return from these trips, courtesy of her great fame and beauty as a screen actress, she utilized the media to give these vital issues enormous publicity. Perhaps unwittingly, she paved the way for today’s crop of philanthropists to use their considerable clout to make a difference. Within five short years Audrey was dead, but her legacy was born. And it endures.
George Clooney founded ‘Not on Our Watch’ with his Ocean 11 co-stars – Don Cheadle, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and producer Jerry Weintraub – an organization that gives millions of dollars to fight against the genocide in the Darfur region of the Sudan. Much of the group’s funding is channelled through the United Nations’ ‘World Food Programme’.
Scarlett Johansson served as an Oxfam ambassador from 2007 until 2015. She has visited Kenya with the organization and Sri Lanka to observe at close quarters how the reconstruction programme following the 2004 tsunami was progressing. She has also spent time distributing food in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. In 2008 she spent four days attending AIDS clinics in Rwanda and is an avid supporter of ‘Soles4Souls’.
Susan Sarandon has often said that her activism in so many causes has made her the butt of jokes at times. ‘It’s not like my activism is something recent’, she said. ‘I come from a generation where, growing up, if you had half a brain in your head and half a heart, you were automatically active.’ Susan is an ambassador for UNICEF, is on the board of advisors for the ‘Yele Haiti Foundation’ and has served on the Amazon Conservation Team. She supports 52 charities and 34 causes.
Leonardo DiCaprio is an environmentalist dedicated to the preservation of wildlife and marine protection. He has donated millions to ‘Oceana’ to fight the use of gill nets off the Californian coast.
Jamie Gertz is not a high profile actress, although fans of the 1996 thriller Twister will recall her playing Bill Paxton’s fiancée, but she and her husband Antony Ressler have access to over $40 billion of investment money which they use to finance their Ressler-Gertz Foundation, making them, potentially, the movie industry’s richest source.
Barbra Streisand has created her own foundation and contributes millions to cardiovascular research.
Sandra Bullock donated $1 million to ‘Doctors without Borders for Haiti Relief’ following the Haiti earthquake that devastated much of Hispaniola. She was also the first celebrity to contribute another million dollars to the Red Cross to help the victims of the Japanese tsunami of 2011.
Meryl Streep quietly contributed $2 million to the Silver Mountain Foundation for the Arts in 2012 alone, part of the money going to Oxfam. Vasser College has received $2 million over three years as well
Matthew McConaughey established the ‘Just Keep Livin’ Foundation’ that supports communities and schools in Los Angeles and Texas.
Alec Baldwin has the ‘Alec Baldwin Foundation’ that supports cancer research, water resources and music.
Mel Gibson makes no secret of his belief in Catholicism and is known to have donated $6.8 million to the ‘Holy Family Church’ and its followers.
Will and Jada Smith have donated at least a million dollars to the ‘Lupus Foundation’, the ‘Baltimore School for the Arts’ and the ‘Make a Wish’ group.
Victoria Principal has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the ‘Greenpeace Fund’, the ‘Natural Resource Defense Council’ and ‘Oceana’.
Madonna joined with Michael Berg to found ‘Raising Malawi’ in 2006, a community-based organization that provides for vulnerable children and care-givers. Madonna matches every dollar raised by the foundation.
Matt Damon is a tireless worker for needy causes. A founder member of ‘Not on Our Watch’, he has helped raise millions of dollars for Darfur, Sudan and has campaigned against the war in that region. He is the founder of ‘H2O Africa’, which is part of the ‘Running the Sahara’ expedition. He is also an ambassador for ‘ONEXONE’ and supports ‘ONE CAMPAIGN’, an organization aimed at fighting AIDS and poverty in Third World countries.
Jackie Chan has been involved with scores of charities and causes. He is known to drop everything on hearing of a disaster and to immediately focus on how he can be of assistance. He raises millions of dollars to help those in need. For example, in the first 8 months of 2010, he raised $36 million dollars to help people from Haiti to Singapore and donated his own money as well. He has his own Jackie Chan Charitable Foundation.
Robin Williams donated 100% of the proceeds from his 2010 shows in New Zealand to the families of the victims of the devastating Christchurch earthquake.
Angelina Jolie has been on field missions around the world since 2001, meeting with refugees and internally displaced persons in over twenty countries. She and Brad Pitt created the ‘Jolie-Pitt Foundation’ aimed at eradicating extreme rural poverty and protecting wildlife and natural resources. They donated a million dollars to ‘Doctors without Borders’ to help victims of the Haiti earthquake. Tax records show they donated $8 million to charity in 2006 alone, but it is the endless commitment to humanitarian causes by them both that has borne the most fruit. Angelina was the first recipient of the newly created ‘Citizen of the World Award’ in 2003. In 2005 she received the ‘Global Humanitarian Award’ from the UN and was awarded Cambodian citizenship by that nation’s King Norodom Sihamoni in recognition of her conservation work there.
Brad Pitt has taken a back seat to Angelina when it comes to public awareness of his philanthropic efforts, but he is a committed humanitarian who is devoted to charities and support organizations all over the world. He and Angelina travelled to Kashmir in 2005 to see first-hand the impact of the earthquake there, the following year they flew to Haiti and he has donated to three relief organizations in Chad and the Darfur region of the Sudan. Indeed, he gives his time and resources to countless causes.
There are hundreds more members of the movie community who devote time and money to helping those in need. For all the flak this community receives, it is highly doubtful if any other profession on Earth can equal its record in this field. It might well be argued that some people in the movie industry are extremely wealthy, that contributing a few million here and there would not be a ‘stretch’ for them. It might also be argued that contributions through their foundations are possibly tax prompted, that public ‘image’ is a significant factor in the pursuit of box-office success. True, any or all of these arguments hold water, but what does that matter if desperately needy human beings are being aided. It is time we acknowledge those listed above (and others) for their efforts. We should give them the benefit of the doubt and applaud the work they are doing.