ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
The movie Blood Diamond is a thriller starring Leonardo DiCaprio. It's about the illegal gem trade in Africa. It is set during a civil war funded by the sales of diamonds. Many of those diamonds wind up in jewelry stores around the world. The film doesn't open for another two months, but the diamond industry has already launched a sophisticated campaign that seems designed to blunt any damage the movie might cause to sales.
NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.
(Soundbite of movie "Blood Diamond")
Unidentified Man: A stone so rare you will do anything to possess it, and all who touch it are left with blood on their hands.
Mr. LEONARDO DICAPRIO (Actor): (As Danny Archer) A diamond is my ticket out of this God-forsaken continent.
FRANK LANGFITT: It's 1999 in Sierra Leone. There's smugglers, a corrupt diamond syndicate, and rebels who cut off the limbs of villagers to scare others into working in the mines. But before audiences see any amputees this Christmas, the diamond industry wants people to know what's been done to halt the blood diamond trade.
Cecilia Gardner is an attorney with the World Diamond Council, an industry group.
Ms. CECILIA GARDNER (General Counsel, World Diamonds Council): We want people who see the movie to understand that it is the past and that lots has happened since that time, and that they understand how important diamond resources are to the countries that have them.
LANGFITT: Last month, the World Diamond Council took out full-page ads in 10 newspapers. They touted a three-year-old, U.N.-backed certification system designed to keep blood diamonds off the market. In preparing its campaign, the Diamond Council followed the mantra of Allan Mayer, a leading crisis management specialist in Los Angeles.
Mr. ALLAN MAYER (Crisis management specialist): You really need to tell your story first. if you don't tell your own story, someone else is going tell it for you and chances are you won't like the way it comes out.
LANGFITT: The council hired Mayer a year ago. He didn't want to speak directly about this campaign, but talked generally about how to deal with movies that could cast an industry in a bad light.
First, get out in front of the release so you frame the issue.
Mr. MAYER: One of the things about big movies is they don't come out of the blue. You see them coming a long way off, and so what you want to do in a situation like that is start planning your response, you know, a year, 18 months before the movie comes out. Start talking about the issues that matter to you in a context that has nothing with the movie.
LANGFITT: The Diamond Council tried to persuade the movie's director, Edward Zwick, to add a disclaimer. The Diamond Council's Cecilia Gardner.
Ms. GARDNER: We wrote them a letter urging them to provide historical context. We thought they ought to make sure that viewers knew that a lot has happened since the times depicted in the movie.
LANGFITT: And what kind of response did you get?
Ms. GARDNER: I'm not aware we got a response.
LANGFITT: Zwick is a heavy-hitter whose past credits include Glory and Traffic. He never considered making a change.
Mr. EDWARD ZWICK (Director, Blood Diamond): My reaction is that I try not to take notes even from the studio, and I didn't really feel that it was proper to consider taking them from an industry lobby.
LANGFITT: Zwick acknowledges the flow of blood diamonds has slowed. But human rights groups say that's due more to the end of wars in Sierra Leone and Angola than to the certification process. And Zwick says more needs to be done.
Mr. ZWICK: In 1999, there were all sorts of estimates varying from, you know, 15 percent to 5 percent that diamonds reaching the world market had come from conflict zones. That number has been significantly reduced, but it is a system that is yet imperfect.
LANGFITT: Indeed a recent U.N. report says that each year at least $9 million in diamonds mined by rebels in Ivory Coast are smuggled onto the market. Zwick says he wants shoppers to ask questions.
Mr. ZWICK: What I wanted to create in their minds is consciousness. I think that, you know, a purchase of a diamond just has to be an informed purchased. I think after seeing this movie, people will be - will feel it incumbent upon themselves to ask for a warranty so as to guarantee that the diamond they're buying is not from a conflict zone.
LANGFITT: If the questions start coming, Ronnie Mervis is ready. Mervis owns several stores in the Washington, D.C. area. He's planning seminars for his staff and has written an article on the issue for a local lifestyle magazine. He says he's not worried about business.
Mr. RONNIE MERVIS (Jeweler): The movie, no matter how good it is, no matter how big a blockbuster it is, has its day and then it passes on. Everything comes and everything goes and then there's another one behind it.
LANGFITT: Alex Yearsley works for Global Witness, a human rights group. He's on the other side of the issue, but on the question of sales he agrees with Mervis.
Mr. ALEX YEARSLEY (Global Witness): At the height of the conflict diamond issue, the blood diamond issue, when it was on the front pages, you know, are pictures of Sierra Leonan children having had their arms cut off, there was no discernible downscale or downsize in diamond sales.
LANGFITT: Blood Diamond opens December 15. Frank Langfitt, NPR News.
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