Star Power: How Hollywood Saves the World

In this handout photo provided by United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie, centre, listens to Sikh children playing religious music at the Khalsa Diwan Welfare Society, an organization run by Afghan refugees of the Sikh faith for other refugees, in New Delhi, India, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2006. AP Photo/UNHCR, K.McKinsey, HO

Star power can give a very big boost to efforts to bring peace on Earth and good will toward men. We're talking about Hollywood star power. Our cover story is reported by Bill Whitaker:


In Hollywood, it's all about image. Right? The beautiful, the bad (or worse).

Now make room for the shiniest new Hollywood icon: the Good.

From Angelina and Brad to Bono and Madonna, the list goes on.

Photos: The Greening of Hollywood
Photos: Hollywood Do-Gooders

Nicole Richie, Ben Affleck, Don Cheadle, Leonardo DiCaprio, Natalie Portman. More and more stars are looking good these days by doing good.

Angelina Jolie, once best known for her tattoos and blood-vial necklace, now is like the Mother Teresa of Hollywood, working with the U.N. on refugees.

"Refugees are not numbers," she said.

George Clooney's good deeds got him invited to the White House:

"I just met with the president and the vice president and I urged them to make the tragedy of Darfur one of their top priorities in foreign policy," he said.

They're everywhere: Matt Damon visiting refugees in a southern Africa refugee camp.

"It's a big problem and it's not going away any time soon," he said.

Celebrity outreach to the poor ... and the powerful, like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"You're building that brand, you're defining a person, and how do you define a person?" said Howard Bragman, PR agent to the stars, who should know: He wrote a book about the fine art of grabbing the spotlight, "Where's My Fifteen Minutes?" (Portfolio).

Bragman says many stars today have philanthropic consultants who match them to good causes.

"The smartest celebrities, the ones that people relate to the most, give back," he said. "It's so important. And when you don't give back in this world, you start to look a little greedy."

Ben Affleck's cause is war-torn Congo.

"You know, having been in a bunch of magazines, I felt like that was pretty empty," he said. "It would be to help people who are like me, kind of ignorant of stuff like this."

So on almost any night in Hollywood, you'll find the rich and famous sipping wine for a good cause. Tonight's cause celebre: nothing less than the planet. A party for EcoMom, a global network started by California moms that shares simple green steps everyone can take to reduce their carbon footprint.

Actress Angie Harmon, who just had her third child, said, "I want the world to be beautiful and lovely for her and for her children. And I want there still to be polar bears."

Of course Hollywood's helping hand is nothing new. Audrey Hepburn was a tireless goodwill ambassador for UNICEF.

In the '70s, rockers like George Harrison raised millions for cyclone-ravaged Bangladesh. In the '80s, Live Aid and "We Are the World" raised millions more for famine relief in Ethiopia.

"'We Are the World' raised more than $60 million for African aid and development. But today activist actors are no longer the exception, but the rule. So hip ... and so ripe for lampooning.

In the HBO series "Entourage," real-life activist Matt Damon presses . . . and presses . . . and presses fictional actor Vincent Chase to give to the children.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the fundraiser. It turns out that Hollywood stars, masters at selling the latest movie or perfume or line of clothes, are also good at selling good causes.

"It has been amazing to see the power of what celebrities can do when they're passionate about something, said Christienne de Tournay Birkhahn, executive director of the EcoMom Alliance.

Birkhahn says the involvement of actress Robin Wright helped her group attract 10,000 members and counting.

So is EcoMom using Wright? "why not?" the actress replied. "I think all organizations do use it. And if we're talking about that factor to raise awareness, beautiful."

John Prendergast has seen the power of celebrity firsthand. He toiled for two decades ... testifying before Congress, writing issue papers, trying to get the world to pay attention to genocide. Lately he's turned to Hollywood for help.

"I guess the first person I worked with was Angelina Jolie," he said.

Prendergast took her to war-torn Congo, and she put her photo diary on the Holocaust Museum's Web site.

"The first minute it was on the Web site, the server crashed," he recalled. "They'd never had that much traffic in their entire history. And I was like, 'My God, this is the answer!'"

Now his ENOUGH Project has a star-studded lineup. Prendergast says stars have access - like Bono pushing third world debt-relief with world leaders. And stars have a megaphone.

"Rape as a weapon of war is not OK," said Diane Lane.

Actresses Lane and Maria Bello each has traveled to third world countries.

"I was with these Darfuri women in Washington," said Bello. "One of the women turned to me and she said, 'I know what I'm talking about, but I have a very small voice. You have a very big voice.'"

And they're using it . . . speaking out on the red carpet, like Ben Affleck.

"I was stunned at the magnitude of suffering that I read about," he said.

John Prendergast credits celebrity activism with building public pressure, pushing the Obama administration to devise a new, tougher policy toward the genocide in Darfur.

"We're actually moving the needle beyond rhetoric to action," he said. "I think the star power's been a major contributor."

But this is Hollywood. When Brad Pitt helps rebuild New Orleans with green affordable housing, when David Arquette helps feed the hungry "One in eight Americans don't know where their next meal is coming from," he says in a Feeding America PSA), skeptics wonder if it's altruism or all-about-me-ism?

"Does it help your image?" Whitaker asked Arquette.

"I hope it helps my, you know, my personal image, my moral image, like, who I am as a person," he replied. "That's really what it means to me. Not on a celebrity level as much as doing the right thing."

So twice a week, out of the glare of the spotlight, he works at an L.A. food bank.

"I would say that more than half of the work that they do is actually not known to the public," said Prendergast.

"There are probably people who do it for their image," says publicist Howard Bragman. "But I will tell you the vast majority of people I've worked with over the years, and I'm talking decades, have truly been committed and passionate and really have been blown away by the difference they make."

In Hollywood, saving the world onscreen used to be enough. Not anymore.


For more info:
"Where's My Fifteen Minutes? Get Your Company, Your Cause, or Yourself the Recognition You Deserve" by Howard Bragman (Portfolio)
EcoMom Alliance
"Ripples of Genocide" (National Holocaust Museum)
enoughproject.org
Feed America
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