Shortly after the release of “Hotel Rwanda”, FUEL founder Bridgit Antoinette Evans participated in meetings with the Washington DC-based Save Darfur Coalition to develop strategies to involve high-profile artists in awareness efforts on behalf of the Darfur movement. To start, Save Darfur had an emerging partnership with the film’s star, Don Cheadle, and wanted innovative ways to maximize his generous offer of support.
Jeff Skoll, founder of Participant Media, often tells a story of why he founded the film company in 2005. He describes reading articles of Don Cheadle’s Darfur activism, and his frustration at the sense that Cheadle was a ‘lone soldier’ sounding the alarm on a major humanitarian crisis that had already claimed 200,000 lives. It was this same observation that lead Fuel to propose to Save Darfur the creation of an intra-industry artist organizing campaign – Live for Darfur – to engage Don’s peers in film, tv, theatre, music and literature in simple yet effective actions that aided the people in Darfur. If he was a ‘lone soldier’ as Skoll described, it was time to find some new recruits.
The “Live for Darfur Artists Campaign” was to serve as a key organizing tool within the entertainment industry. Fuel asked Cheadle and award-winning actor Djimon Housou to serve as Global Co-Chairs of the campaign, and with their assistance, began a recruitment process that over a two-year period galvanized more than 50 music and film artists, catalyzed more than 100 music/film/literary awareness events and press appearances on behalf of the Darfur movement, introduced the cause to decision-makers at the highest levels of the media and entertainment industries, generated more than $3 million for Darfur charities, and helped develop other key Darfur advocates including George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon.
Film, theatre and television artists (including the producers of the highly-rated “E/R” Darfur episodes) gave audiences near-life experiences of the daily realities of Darfuri people. Photo exhibits brought the faces of Darfuri children into leading museums and galleries. Literary figures carried the crisis into the nation’s largest bookstores. On-stage song dedications delivered the message of Darfur to over one million concert-goers.
To their credit, it is doubtful whether the Darfur movement could have achieved its high degree of public awareness without the active participation of Don Cheadle and other artists.