Spielberg Quits China Olympics Gig Over Darfur Ties

After months of pressure from Darfur activists, Steven Spielberg has withdrawn from his position as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics. Darfur activists are pressuring China because of the Chinese government's strong ties to Khartoum. Sudan is a key oil supplier for China.

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Activists protesting the genocide in Darfur are applauding Steven Spielberg today. He just announced that he's pulling out of his role as artistic consultant to the Beijing Olympics because the Chinese won't take a stand against the Sudanese government.

China and Sudan have extensive trading connections, including oil. Activists want China to use its leverage to stop the violence in Darfur. NPR's Kim Masters reports.

KIM MASTERS: For more than a year, Spielberg tried to push China to use its influence to halt genocide in Darfur. On Tuesday, he issued a statement, saying he would no longer continue his role on the Olympic Games. Instead, he said, he would work to end what he called the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur.

Ms. MIA FARROW (Actress, Activist): I was hoping it would happen sooner rather than later, but gee, that it happened at all is great.

MASTERS: Actress Mia Farrow took a leading and at times irksome role in pressing Spielberg to cut his ties to the games. Last March, she wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Spielberg should not participate in what she called the genocide Olympics. Now, she says, Spielberg has had a Lillian Hellman moment. That's a reference to the playwright's costly defiance of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the early 1950s.

Ms. FARROW: Paraphrasing only slightly, I cannot cut my conscience. This is the time. And I hope he would see that moment. And he did precisely that.

Mr. JOHN PRENDERGAST (Co-Chair, Enough Project): Hanging in there and trying to influence from in the inside for a while was worthwhile.

MASTER: John Prendergast is co-chair of the Enough project, one of many organizations focusing on the Darfur crises.

Mr. PRENDERGAST: The closest of the games he could make this an announcement of a withdrawal the more influence it would have. Had he done it a year ago, it would have been buried on page A-26, because there's nobody's thinking about the Olympics.

MASTERS: Enough and other activists groups announced today that they will run ads and newspapers around the world, calling on China to intervene.

Mr. PRENDERGAST: If they continue to stonewall, we'll continue to increase the pressure, particularly by going after corporate sponsors of the Olympics. And in that case, we're going to be looking at all kinds of actions.

MASTERS: Mia Farrow hasn't waited. She's been urging the public to pressure corporations that are sponsors of the Olympics, such as McDonald's, Coca Cola and General Electric.

Ms. FARROW: I don't know where the sponsors can hide. Steven Spielberg has left and nowhere to go by declaring that this is a moral issue. And it cannot be business as usual.

MASTERS: None of the advocacy groups is calling for athletes to boycott the games. But Joey Cheek, a speed skater and gold medalist in the 2006 games says the Olympics provide an opportunity. Cheek is co-founder of Team Darfur, a coalition of athletes. He says outspoken advocacy might be risky for some, but competitors who feel strongly will have a major forum at the Olympics.

Mr. JOEY CHEEK (Co-founder, Team Darfur): You know, an athlete could say anytime any media points the camera or hands the microphone to me, the first thing I'm going to talk about is what's happening.

MASTERS: All the activist groups are hoping that eventually, China will feel the pressure at a time when it's hoping to use the games to promote the country's image.

Activist John Prendergast.

Mr. PRENDERGAST: What really it comes down to is to what extent will China accept the degree of public humiliation or embarrassment with respect with policy on Darfur.

MASTERS: On Tuesday, a spokesman at the Chinese Embassy responded to Spielberg by telling the New York Times that the Darfur crisis is neither an internal issue of China nor is it caused by China. The spokesman added, it is completely unreasonable, irresponsible and unfair to link the two as one.

Kim Masters, NPR News.

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