If you’ve ever wondered how celebrities pick the charities they get involved with, Jonathan Foreman explains it all in the Times — basically, as with so many things, their agents handle it.
Creative Artists Agency was the first major talent agency to start a “foundation” to guide its clients toward good works, and now most of the big companies have one. And sure, there’s cynicism and more than a little self-righteousness involved. Foreman notes how activist John Prendergast (who first got Angelina Jolie to the Congo) grows agitated when he’s reminded of the risible side of celebrity charity work, like Paris Hilton tweeting a picture of herself holding a child in a Guatemalan hospital. “You can’t put Paris Hilton in the same category as Clooney or Angelina,” he snarls. “It’s like confusing Bush and Obama.”
No matter how well-intentioned the gesture is, it’s hard not to snicker a little when, say, Gwyneth Paltrow puts on tribal beads and poses for a photo with the caption “I Am African,” even if she’s just trying to draw attention to AIDS infection rates. But easy laughs aside, the article makes it plain that the foundations really do make good-faith efforts to find out what causes in the world need money and attention, then match those to celebrities willing to actually lose time and sleep over them. And, whatever their motivation, it works — after Lucy Liu went on “Oprah” to talk about Pakistan’s 2004 earthquake, donations to Unicef went up 240%.
Celeb charity work can be ridiculous and nakedly naive, but if that’s what it takes to get people’s attention, it’s not a bad thing; what’s needed is a spotlight, not necessarily knowledge. Or, as an anonymous British screenwriter quoted in the article puts it: “It’s easy to mock this stuff, but compare these actors to our footballers, who spend all their money on booze and hookers and renting a f***-off house in Ibiza.” Fair enough.
[Photo: Gwyneth Paltrow in the Keep a Child Alive campaign]