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Olympics become a hurdle

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THIS isn't exactly the show Chinese government officials had in mind when they signed on to host the Olympic Games in Beijing this summer.

They had envisioned a sporting event full of Hollywood splendor ( Steven Spielberg would serve as an artistic advisor to the Games. So would Quincy Jones and Ang Lee).


FOR THE RECORD:
Beijing Olympics: An item in Friday's Cause Celebre column in the Calendar section reported that George Clooney had asked Swiss watchmaker Omega, a company for which he serves as a spokesman, to reconsider its sponsorship of the Summer Olympics in Beijing. The star has instead urged Omega to consider speaking out about China's foreign policy, according to a Clooney representative. —


But the only thing the Chinese government is getting from Hollywood these days is a lot of guff and very little glitz.

There are many causes in the entertainment industry -- everything from AIDS in Africa to saving the U.S. penny. But few are more powerful at the moment than the religious strife in Tibet ( Richard Gere's longtime raison d'être) and in Burma (an important issue for Mark Ruffalo), and the genocide raging in Darfur ( George Clooney's prime cause).

So when the Chinese government -- at the center of all three controversies -- came calling on the U.S. entertainment industry for advice on how to stage the biggest and best opening ceremony ever held on Earth (or at least in a communist country), they got more that they bargained for.

The response:

1. Quit doing business with the Sudanese government while it's waging war against its own people in Darfur, and go to work at the U.N. to bring about peace.

2. Lay off the monks in Burma and cut out the beatings in Tibet. A little religious freedom, please.

3. And what's that you're saying about the Dalai Lama? You should know he's more popular here than Tom Hanks.

(By the way, a wistful opening number with glittering lights at the beginning of any Olympic ceremony is always lovely.)

The Chinese, not exactly keen on being given orders, surprisingly have responded in recent weeks with some positive action. After Spielberg announced that he was dropping all plans to assist the Chinese with their big show because of the killings in Darfur, the government began pushing the Sudanese government to accept a peacekeeping force into the troubled region.

Hollywood activists, of course, want more.

Mia Farrow, who took on Spielberg months ago, warning him that his involvement with China would make him "the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games," is calling for an outright boycott of the opening ceremonies to push China to sever its economic relationship with Sudan.

"There is one thing that the Chinese government holds dearly: the successful staging of the Olympic Games," Farrow said in an interview this week. "It's the lone point of leverage against a country that has been impervious to criticism.

"How can they put on a show when they're underwriting a genocide? It's a terrible contradiction," added Farrow, who has been blogging on the issue on her website, MiaFarrow.org.

"We're asking everyone who was planning to attend the Olympics to skip the opening ceremonies. We're also asking the public not to watch the opening ceremonies and the commercials."

For a viewing alternative, Farrow said she was planning to broadcast via Internet from a refugee camp on the Sudan/Chad border during the Olympics, which begin on Aug. 8.

"I want to show people how deplorable the conditions are."

The boycott idea seems to be gaining steam in the international political community, with French President Nicolas Sarkozy suggesting this week that such action might be necessary. He used Tibet as his cause for concern.

"Our Chinese friends must understand the worldwide concern that there is about the question of Tibet, and I will adapt my response to the evolutions in the situation that will come, I hope, as rapidly as possible," he said.

Clooney, who has been working to raise public awareness about Darfur for several years, is trying another tack: Two weeks ago, he urged Swiss watchmaker Omega to reconsider its sponsorship of the Olympics. (Clooney is a spokesman for the company and appears in its ads.)

The actor told the BBC: "I have talked with Omega [about China] for over a year and will continue to talk to Omega." Omega, which has a long association with the Games, told Clooney that they weren't interested in making a political statement by pulling out.

Also staying involved in the Games -- at least for the moment -- is Jones, who is doing the musical program. His publicist, Arnold Robinson, said this week: "Quincy has not made a decision as of yet with regard to his role as an artistic advisor to the opening ceremonies of the Games. However, bringing an end to the crisis in Darfur is of utmost importance to him."

According to one source, Jones, a longtime human rights advocate, wonders if he can exert more influence over the Chinese by keeping his role at the Games.

Either way, there will be a show. Even if it is on the sidelines.

tina.daunt@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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