BEIJING (AP) — Steven Spielberg was supposed to lend a little
Hollywood glitz to this year’s Beijing Olympics.
Instead, the heavyweight director’s rejection of a role in the
Summer Games on human rights grounds stands as the event’s biggest
political challenge yet.
Spielberg, who won an Oscar for his 1993 Holocaust film
“Schindler’s List,” said he was turning down a position as
artistic adviser to the opening and closing ceremonies because
China was not doing enough to pressure its ally Sudan into ending
the humanitarian crisis in the Darfur region.
That decision drew praise from a slew of other groups critical
of Beijing, boosting a months-long campaign by activists to
spotlight the communist regime’s human rights record.
Although not entirely unexpected, Spielberg’s announcement
Tuesday appeared to catch Beijing flat-footed. Neither the
organizing committee nor China’s Foreign Ministry had responded by
Spielberg, whose 2005 film “Munich” dealt with the killings of
11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics, had indicated as early as
August that he might not take part in the ceremonies. Spielberg
said he had given up hope that China would take a more aggressive
approach toward Sudan.
China is believed to have special influence with the Islamic
regime because it buys two-thirds of the country’s oil exports
while selling it weapons and defending Khartoum in the
U.N. Security Council.
Fighting between government-backed militia and rebels in Darfur
has killed more than 200,000 people and left an estimated 2.5
million displaced since 2003.
“While China’s representatives have conveyed to me that they
are working to end the terrible tragedy in Darfur, the grim
realities of the suffering continue unabated,” Spielberg said in a
Spielberg was supposed to have joined a team led by famed
Chinese director Zhang Yimou. Yimou’s representatives did not
respond to e-mailed requests for comment. Spielberg had yet to sign
a contract and had only visited Beijing once as part of Olympic
In recent days, the U.S. Congress and a coalition of Nobel Peace
Prize winners, politicians and elite athletes have also lobbied
Beijing over Darfur.
Actress Mia Farrow and other activists delivered an open letter
addressed to Chinese President Hu Jintao at the Chinese Mission to
the United Nations in New York on Tuesday.
“How can Beijing host the Olympic Games at home and underwrite
genocide?” said Farrow, a U.N. goodwill ambassador, shivering in
Praising Spielberg’s decision, Human Rights Watch said corporate
sponsors, governments and national Olympic committees must urge
Beijing to improve human rights at home.
China has repeatedly denounced what it calls attempts to
“politicize” the Aug. 8-24 Games.
Yet it has been unable to turn back a rising tide of negative
global opinion that joins concerns over the city’s notorious
pollution, snarled traffic and displacement of people for the
construction of Olympic venues.
Beijing has invested billions of dollars and its national
prestige into what it hopes will be a glorious showcase of China’s
rapid development from impoverished agrarian nation to rising
International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Emmanuelle Moreau
said the IOC had not been involved in discussions between Beijing
and Spielberg and had no comment on the director’s pullout.
“This is a personal decision of Mr. Spielberg,” Moreau said.
Leading sponsor Adidas, which is reportedly spending $200
million for sponsorship rights to the Beijing Games, also said it
would remain uninvolved.
“We do not believe we have the political leverage that the
campaigners attribute to us,” the German sporting goods maker said
in a statement.
China’s state-controlled media carried no mention of Spielberg’s
Despite the government’s official view, Luo Qing, a scholar who
researches China’s national image at Communications University of
China in Beijing, said the 2008 Games were destined to attract
“The Olympics is not just about sports,” Luo said. “Politics
will be even more prominent in 2008 because China is a political
hot spot and, as an Eastern country, likely to cause greater