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Date: Feature Week of February 20, 2005
Topic: Black Press Business/Economic
Author: William Reed
Article ID: article_ema022005


Don Cheadle: Actor, Reporter or Dupe?

Never fall in love with an actor; they never stop acting.

Now that ABC's Nightline is up for cancellation, producers have taken to sheer storytelling.  Recently, Nightline ran a two-part story titled "Art Meets Life: Don Cheadle's Mission of Mercy."  The piece followed Cheadle and the man he plays in Hotel Rwanda, Paul Rusesabagina, as they joined a two-and-a-half day, five-member congressional mission touring refugee camps in Chad and Sudan’s Western Darfur region.

On Nightline Cheadle played three roles: actor promoting a movie, activist and journalist; another was in the long-standing tradition between Congress and Hollywood in which legislators invite movie stars to testify in Washington about issues dramatized in their films.  Since playing the concierge- turned- manager of the Belgian-owned Hotel Milles Collines who saved 1,200 people in a 100-day ordeal through bribery, charm, and ingenuity, Cheadle is trying to make the world pay attention to him, his movie and international human rights.  Don Cheadle is a wonderful actor, and if the experience of making Hotel Rwanda inspired him to use his fame to draw attention to the world’s human rights, that’s commendable and right on the money.  On this stage all the players win: Cheadle puts butts in seats for Hotel Rwanda, increases his exposure and chances for Academy Awards’ “Best Actor” Oscar, ABC and Nightline got a vital viewer (and post-production) boost in the 11:30 PM time slot and media-hungry anti-Sudan legislators got  broadcast and newsprint face time.

Hollywood’s movie offerings are exploding, making competition for audiences more intense than ever.  Urban markets are bombarded by many competing films - making sense of Cheadle’s cross-promotional ploy.  Jamie Fox is directly in Cheadle and United Artists’ grill with an adaptation of the life of Ray Charles, which has out grossed Hotel Rwanda seven to one.  This meant United Artists and Cheadle, had to become more creative in reaching potential moviegoers and influencing pivotal opinion molders.  High consumers of movies, African Americans were ripe for the cultural sensitivity and generated interest in Hotel Rwanda and Cheadle in one of hype’s most effective ways: peer-to-peer networking.

Nightline and Congress may buy into Cheadle with a press pass in his cap, but audiences should take caution and draw distinctions between what is an act and what is fact regarding this issue.  Even Cheadle says the horrific event in Rwanda is one he "fictitiously went through for the last year."  Actually, Cheadle never sat foot in Rwanda.  He brought his family to South Africa with him for last year’s filming, but never visited Rwanda because of a tight schedule.  He’d started shooting the ensemble drama Crash before traveling to Africa and returned to finish work on it after wrapping Hotel Rwanda.  Then he was on his way to several locations around Europe for Ocean’s Twelve.

Nowadays, Cheadle is routinely described as "actor and activist."  He appeared with the Ed Royce-headed congressional delegation at a Washington press conference to draw a line between the genocidal nightmare of Rwanda, where a million people were murdered in 1994, and the crisis in Sudan, where an estimated 1.8 million people have been displaced and between 15,000 and 50,000 have died.  Cheadle calls it "tsunamis of violence".  MTV's mtvU channel has a campaign to raise consciousness about Sudan among college students featuring Cheadle in spots produced with Amnesty International.  However, none of these actors publicly acknowledge that: Hotel Rwanda is inaccurate factually, and Cheadle’s allegations of a generational “genocide” occurring in Sudan ignore similar slaughter statistics taking place now in Sudan’s neighboring countries of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.

At the end of the "Nightline" segment, the camera watches Cheadle looking through a barbed wire fence at one of the camps and says, “How can I really combat this unless I spend every dime I have and somehow impress upon every human being I know to chip in?”  Good question.  To be fair, and on the money, why not make Cheadle host of a prime-time telethon to raise money for all Africa’s refugees?


© 2000-2004 William Reed - www.BlackPressInternational.com


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