Obama heartens his base

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Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

CAREER disasters (which usually involve some embarrassing bootlegged video or gossip magazine exposé) are commonplace in Tinseltown. If you’re lucky, you can redeem yourself by being honest -- and then dazzling audiences with an unexpected Oscar-worthy performance.

Perhaps the same holds true here for politicians.

After the YouTube videos surfaced showing Barack Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, making racist statements, the senator’s entertainment industry supporters were beyond worried: Some thought Obama was, quite simply, finished.

“I was getting calls from celebs who were pretty upset and pretty scared,” said music industry executive Steven McKeever, who serves on Obama’s finance committee. “Major figures in this town were nervous and losing sleep over it.”

And then, on Tuesday, their candidate made the speech of a lifetime: He talked about race relations in America in terms never before used by a U.S. presidential candidate. (By Thursday, the speech was viewed more than 1.6 million times on YouTube.)

If Hollywood had a prize for political reinvention, Obama would have won it.

“He spoke from the heart, and it was one of those most remarkable moments you’ll remember all your life,” McKeever said.

It had all the makings of a Hollywood thriller: disaster, triumph and the promise of a great finale. With everything on the line, Obama went into himself, wrote his own script and penned a comeback. Sort of like Bruce Willis making a great escape from a burning building.

And since Tuesday, McKeever said his phone hasn’t stopped ringing. Stevie Wonder, an avid Obama supporter, called, as did a number of other entertainers. “Everyone knew this was a historically significant moment,” McKeever said. “I even talked to people who weren’t even supporters. They came away with a sense of awe.”

Wonder went on his KJLH radio show Thursday morning to make a few statements about his favorite candidate.

He said: “Every communicator -- whether artist, actor, reporter or media -- should use their gift to unite us and not divide us. The reality is, conscious Americans know that Barack Obama is the color of truth.”

Entertainment executive Alex Avant, son of Motown great Clarence Avant, said he was also impressed by the senator’s words.

“Barack’s speech was a beacon of hope that went beyond surface dialogue regarding racial issues,” said Avant, a partner in creating the website “What you believe defines the time you’re living in. Belief systems have time periods, and he just shattered them.”

So in less than a week, the mood among pro-Obama forces in Hollywood went from despair to delight, and that means a reenergized campaign out here.

Expect lots of pro-Obama efforts from the glitterati in the coming weeks. already has a major initiative underway. The group announced last week that it is teaming with Academy Award winners Ben Affleck, Matt Damon and Oliver Stone, multiple Grammy winner John Legend, author Naomi Wolf and others to hold a new ad contest called “Obama in 30 Seconds.”

The effort provides a platform for Obama supporters to show in 30-second spots what inspires them about the senator’s candidacy. MoveOn will buy time to run the winning ad on national television before Pennsylvania’s crucial April 22 primary. Affleck explained the effort this way: “MoveOn’s ‘Obama in 30 Seconds’ ad contest is a chance for everyone, from aspiring filmmakers to armchair pundits, to raise their voices to put Obama over the top and help make history.”

Legend called the contest a “powerful way for ordinary citizens to be involved in an extraordinary moment in our history.”

The list of other people involved in the MoveOn campaign is dazzling. It includes musician-activist Michael Franti; actor-musician-director Adrian Grenier; Academy Award-nominated producer Ted Hope; author and civil rights leader the Rev. Jesse Jackson; award-winning documentary filmmaker Rory Kennedy; Stanford Law professor and founder of the Center for Internet and Society, Lawrence Lessig; recording artist Moby; Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas; Lionsgate Entertainment President Tom Ortenberg; Native American activist and documentary filmmaker Heather Rae; Focus Features President James Schamus; producer and entrepreneur Russell Simmons; hip-hop musician DJ Spooky; Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg; and Grammy Award-winning songwriter and musician Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam.

Of course, if the going gets really tough, Obama still has George Clooney as his ace in the hole, though Clooney has kept a low-key profile in this campaign.

Hollywood friends understand, perhaps better than anyone, what it means to make a comeback. And what it takes.