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Why Is Hollywood Sitting Out Gulf Oil Spill Relief?

May 25, 2010 – 2:33 PM
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(May 25) -- In January, when a magnitude-7.0 earthquake killed an estimated 230,000 Haitians and left more than a million others homeless, Hollywood shed a collective, well-choreographed tear, then banded together like a Christopher Guest cast to help put the country back together. The tabloids kept track of the most generous celebrities, noting that Brangelina and Sandra Bullock each donated $1 million, while others, like Sean Penn, decamped to Haiti to work directly on refugee efforts. In perhaps the most visible celebrity relief effort, George Clooney hosted a star-studded telethon that featured performances by Beyonce, Justin Timberlake and, obviously, Bono.

Yet as hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil continue to leak into and spread out across the Gulf of Mexico each day, Hollywood has seemed largely unmoved by the BP oil spill, which is creating its own long list of need: Eleven workers died in the accident that led to the leak, and scientists have so far tallied an animal fatality count of 23 birds, 156 sea turtles and 12 dolphins, numbers that are expected to rise (countless more will simply sink to the ocean floor, undiscovered). Thousands of fishermen are abruptly out of work, and it may take decades for the gulf ecosystem to recover. All in all, most experts say the damage here will eclipse that of 1989's catastrophic Exxon Valdez spill, which dumped 11 million gallons into Alaska's Prince William Sound and cost the company nearly $4 billion.

So what gives? Where are the photos of Lady Gaga in waders? Does Clooney have something against tuna?

According to Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy, donations to help have Haiti added up to $1.3 billion so far; Hurricane Katrina was an even bigger catalyst for altruism, commanding a whopping $5.3 billion. By contrast, the celebrity effort in the wake of the gulf oil spill has been a D-plus, B-list effort at best. Last week, Lenny Kravitz, Mos Def, John Legend and others took part in Gulf Aid, a fundraising concert held in New Orleans, which producer Ben Jaffe says raised $350,000 for fishing families and wetlands restoration. Louisiana native and actor Ian Somerhalder, who earned moderate fame as one of the first major characters to get the boot during season one of "Lost," filmed a few PSAs for the Audubon Institute and told the Los Angeles Times, "I never talk about politics, but right now is a time to be angry and sad." Still -- he's no Bono. He's not even Josh Holloway.

A cynic might suggest that the gulf spill is playing second fiddle to more pressing celebrity travails: philanthropic heavies Clooney, Bullock, and the Pitt-Jolies -- who own a house in New Orleans -- are all either going through real or alleged break-ups. It's also possible that man-made disasters just don't command the sort of sympathy as natural ones, especially since BP has already agreed to cover all costs associated with cleanup and claims for property damage, injury and business losses. But then, survivors of 1986's Chernobyl accident garnered support from Michael Stipe, Bono and Helena Christensen, while Exxon Valdez inspired Kevin Costner to spend $26 million of his own money to hire a team of engineers and scientists to create a way to separate oil from seawater. More likely, it's just a result of unfortunate timing. Penn remains in Haiti, and Pitt's still going on about Katrina. And, well, awards season isn't for another nine months.

Gulf Aid producer Jaffe says he hopes to raise more funds by airing the concert on cable TV. In the meantime, Costner's devices, called Ocean Therapy, have been added to BP's cleanup efforts. And Stephen Baldwin, the youngest Baldwin brother best known for his work on "Celebrity Big Brother" (or was it I'm a "Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here?"), has been in Cannes talking up his in-the-works documentary about the spill and America's oil dependency, called "The Will to Drill." Costner will narrate.

Beyond that, little Gulf Coast sea turtles: You're on your own.
Filed under: Nation, Entertainment
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