Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Cheers for Mr. Spielberg

Renowned filmmaker Steven Spielberg’s announcement today that he was bowing out of his participation in the Beijing Olympics ceremonies is a welcomed development for the human rights movement worldwide. After months of pressure from various rights groups, the director of such movies as Schindler’s List and Empire of the Sun must have realized that the image he had groomed over the years — that of a wise artist embracing such worthy causes as the history of the Holocaust and the personal sacrifices of soldiers during World War II — risked being cast as fraudulent should he become complicit, however indirectly, in the crimes of the Chinese government in Darfur.

Sadly, in his press release Spielberg only focused on Darfur and failed to address the equally serious shortcomings of Beijing on human rights, or its equally nefarious activities in other countries, such as Myanmar. Although the pressure on Spielberg came from groups whose imagination was sparked by images of atrocity in southern Sudan, his credentials as an artist of conscience and role model would have shone even brighter if he had used the occasion to decry the numerous other areas where Beijing clearly fails to act responsibly — including Taiwan — and stated that those shortcomings had also weighed in his decision to cancel his role in the Olympics.

Nevertheless, Spielberg should be commended for his decision. His move will give renewed hope to rights organizations — in China and abroad — that even Beijing, whose official position on the Olympics is one of hardened indifference to criticism, is not exempt from world opprobrium and that individuals can still choose to say no to it.

An artist like Spielberg — the very personalization of Mr. Hollywood, if ever there was one — who depends on the Box Office for his livelihood and who cherishes, not undeservedly, the mantle of morality, Beijing had simply become too radioactive.

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