In about two months, the new movie Blood Diamond will be released in theatres. As Alex pointed out recently, awareness has been steadily increasing around the conflict, corruption and violence inherent in the diamond trade, but with the forthcoming release of this film (which stars the known-for-being-green Leonardo DiCaprio), the profile of the issue is about to be Hollywood sized.
An article in the LA Times a few days ago brought out one of the more interesting indirect consequences of Blood Diamond's immanent public appearance: Warner Bros. has so far run almost no PR of its own; the very early buzz has been generated instead by aggressive counter-campaigns launched by diamond companies who are panicking over the possibility that their businesses may plummet in the wake of the film.
As early as last fall, De Beers head Jonathan Oppenheimer expressed concern that the film might hurt Christmas and Valentine's Day sales. He asked the filmmakers to add a disclaimer stating that the events in the film are fictional and in the past and that, thanks to the Kimberley Process, which the industry put in place to document where diamonds come from, conflict diamonds end up on the market only very rarely. The filmmakers declined to add it...In September, the diamond industry began its multimillion-dollar campaign to "educate consumers" about the Kimberley Process. But to some observers, the very scale of the costly campaign has raised suspicion.
Amnesty International and Global Witness have both stood behind the filmmakers in resisting urges to alter or compromise the way diamond conflicts are depicted in the film. The Kimberley Process has fallen under criticism by human rights groups who maintain that there is no way to truly monitor the origin of a diamond.
Adding to the pot-stirring that De Beers and others incited, a single page ad appeared in Variety a few months ago, paid for by the Kalahari Bushmen of Botswana, who were driven from their land by the government to make way for diamond mining. Their ad directly addressed DiCaprio, asking for help which then came in the form of several Survival International advocacy efforts.
Already there are a number of small enterprises working to ensure that people have an alternative (that is, those who do not consider not having a diamond an alternative) to conflict diamonds. Someone also pointed me toward this semi-dated but still relevant 10 step guide to saying no to a blood diamond.
Given that the release is still eight weeks out, odds look good that Blood Diamond will have the impact it aims for, and we'll just have to see how the companies whose stability depends on continued injustice fare, as consumers learn the story behind their jewels.
This is the sort of thing that all of us who participate in the arts as our form of activism aspire to be a part of.
It also offers tangible hope that making change in the face of impossibly rich and huge multinationals is possible.
Special kudos to the Bushmen for taking out such a savvy ad.