Feature

The Darfur Olympics

Steven Spielberg resigned as an artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics to protest China

What happened

Director Steven Spielberg resigned as an artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics to protest China’s lack of action on the Darfur crisis in Sudan. At the same time, London’s Independent published a letter from 80 Nobel laureates, politicians, and celebrities urging China to do more to broker an end to the Darfur conflict. China has strong economic and military ties to Sudan, buying about two-thirds of that country’s oil. About 200,000 people have been killed in the Darfur conflict so far, with another two million forced to leave their homes. “Sudan’s government bears the bulk of the responsibility for these ongoing crimes, but the international community, and particularly China, should be doing more,” Spielberg said. (BBC News)

What the commentators said

This has got to be “an unwelcome change in script” for China, said Frederik Balfour in BusinessWeek.com. Not only was Beijing counting on “Hollywood heavyweight” Spielberg to “provide some glitz for the opening-night ceremony” this summer, but the “bad publicity” from his decision also comes “at an awkward time for China.” While China hopes to make the 2008 Olympics “its coming-out party on the world stage,” the “oil-thristy” nation also “doesn’t want to distance itself from the Sudanese regime.” But Beijing “deeply cares about world opinion,” and it’s already “embarrassed” by the fact that many pollution-averse Olympic teams have chosen to practice for the games in neighboring Japan and Korea.

“Spielberg is certainly correct” about China providing “weapons, money, and diplomatic cover” to Sudan, said Richard Just in The New Republic’s The Plank blog. And anything that “embarrasses Beijing over this morally indefensible support for Sudan” is good. But why did Spielberg stop with Sudan? It’s not like “the Darfur genocide” is the only reason to “think twice about serving as a propagandist for the Beijing Olympics.” China is “an authoritarian regime” whose crackdown on internal dissent and domestic human rights is only growing “more brutal as the Olympics approach.” Spielberg, along with “western athletes, commentators, and corporations,” have missed the broader point: Yes, China leaders have “betrayed the people of Darfur, but they have also betrayed the people of China.”

Still, chalk up a win for Mia Farrow, said Mike Nizza in The New York Times’ The Lede blog. The actress called this one last March, suggesting in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that Spielberg’s involvement in the Beijing games risked making him “the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games,” referring to the Nazi propagandist who helped legitimize the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Farrow got her answer, and China got “a painfully conspicuous blow” to its “national pride.”

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