BATTLE FOR HOLLYWOOD HEARTS ; Aids Was Once Known as the 'Darling Disease', the Focus of Star- Studded Fundraisers. but Now It Is Facing Intense Competition for Celebrity Consciences. John Hiscock Reports from Los Angeles Charity in Tinseltown
Hiscock, John, The Independent (London, England)
During her acceptance speech at the recent MTV awards in Los Angeles, the Hollywood ac-tress Jessica Alba had two pieces of advice for the audience: "Practise safe sex - and drive hybrids if you can."
The Sin City actress's judicious juxtaposition of good causes highlights the problems facing celebrities in the United States, who are increasingly findingthemselves torn between different charities. There are so many rallying calls that some stars have given up representing any one cause for fear of offending the others.
And one, in particular, is feeling the effects. Aids, the cause clbre of the 1980s and 1990s which saw supporters all over the world fix red ribbons to their lapels, no longer reigns supreme. It is forced to share the spotlight with a long list of other causes - breast cancer, testicular cancer, African debt relief, the humanitarian crisis in Darfur and, most recently, global warming.
One of the hottest Hollywood issues at the moment is the environment. Leonardo DiCaprio has his own eco-website, Ted Dan-son and Pierce Brosnan are fighting to clean up the oceans, Woody Harrelson is a crusader for hemp and environmental issues and Daryl Hannah was recently evicted from a tree in Los Angeles, where she was protesting against the demise of an urban farm.
At the recent premiere of forme r vice-president Al Gore's doomsday documentary on global warming, An Inconvenient Truth, several stars, including Hannah, Alba and Sharon Stone, stood in line after the movie to greet Gore and offer their support. Meanwhile, in the shadows, Aids groups are struggling to raise funds and long for the days when they were the central focus of the entertainment industry's activism.
"There are a lot more demands and requests from great causes for people's time and energy," says Craig Thompson, the executive director of Aids Project Los Angeles. "Frankly, for celebrities it's become a bit of a conundrum." The once omnipresent red ribbon worn by celebrities to highlight the Aids problem has now disappeared. "Now there's a ribbon for everything and every colour and every cause," he said. "If they wear a red ribbon they have to turn down the ribbon of four other organisations. It just became too politically difficult."
Of course, the cause still has its stalwarts. Sir Elton John and Elizabeth Taylor remain two of Hollywood's biggest fundraisers for Aids efforts while the Irish singer Bono has been instrumental in raising awareness of global poverty and the Aids epidemic with the One campaign, which has enlisted stars such as George Clooney and Brad Pitt.
The U2 frontman, whose charity work earned him a spot as one of Time magazine's 2005 people of the year, recently, as guest editor devoted the front page of The Independent to Aids issues. Earlier this year he announced he was starting Project Red to raise funds in the global fight against Aids, along with tuberculosis and malaria. He has also recruited others to the cause.
Ashley Judd became the global ambassador for YouthAids and has gone to South-east Asia and Africa to educate young people about the disease. She calls Bono "the godfather of the awareness of extreme global poverty."
But there is no doubt that it is becoming harder to engage many celebrities in the Aids campaign, beset as the US has been in recent years by events such as 11 September and Hurricane Kat-rina. These events forced attention away from far-away problems. The Boxing Day tsunami brought another, immediate need for funding that detracted from the fight against Aids.
Today's celebrities are following the example set by the late Audrey Hepburn, who campaigned for Unicef ' Jerry Lewis, whose Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon is in its 40th year, and the late Bob Hope, who entertained the troops with the USO (United Service Organisations). "You almost expect celebrities to have a cause," says Alan Abramson, director of non-profit studies and philanthropy for the Aspen institute, a research and advocacy organisation. …