Hollywood hotel targeted over human rights

Trouble in Tinseltown: Actress Faye Dunaway at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 1977.

The celebrity clientele of one of the world’s most famous hotels is boycotting it because of its links with human rights abuses in Brunei. But do famous faces help or hinder good causes?

Affectionately called ‘The Pink Hotel’, the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles is the epitome of timeless Hollywood glamour. Opened in 1912, it has seen the likes of Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Tom Cruise grace its plush cocktail bars, crystal blue pool and luxurious apartments. It is a central meeting point for people in the film industry.

But events thousands of miles away in the small state of Brunei in South-East Asia are causing a stir among the hotel’s usually relaxed, unruffled residents.

The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, who has owned the hotel since 1987, last week passed a new set of harsh Islamic laws in his state. The laws impose the death penalty by stoning for homosexuality and adultery, among other punishments.

In response, comedians Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres, and other famous faces, such as Richard Branson, have decided to boycott the hotel. They are refusing to stay there until, in the words of Branson, ‘the Sultan abides by basic human rights.’ A string of organisations is also refusing to hold events there and there have been protests outside the hotel this week.

But the CEO of the Dorchester Collection, the group which runs all the Sultan’s hotels, warned that the boycott will adversely affect the hotel’s staff, and argued that many companies in the West have links with countries that are complicit in human rights abuses.

Of course, celebrities supporting humans rights issues and charitable causes is nothing new, and campaigns like Live Aid organised by musician Bob Geldof have been undeniably effective. Angelina Jolie, in her role as special envoy and former goodwill ambassador for the United Nations, is as well known for her charitable efforts as for her acting career and love life. She has visited some of the most volatile countries in the world and donated millions of pounds to important causes.

But celebrity involvement can also be superficial and can backfire. The supermodel Naomi Campbell, who posed for an anti-fur campaign for the animal rights group Peta, later went on to model fur coats.

Look to the stars?

The US government has been largely silent on Brunei’s new penal code, and some protesters have commented that they only became aware of the issue thanks to the celebrities involved. Famous faces can reach new audiences and increase awareness of important issues and we should welcome their support.

But others think that they can divert attention from the issues being raised. Fans may flock to donate money, but have little understanding of the underlying causes. Oxfam research recently concluded that ‘celebrity advocacy promotes brief and shallow engagement’ and celebrity support can do more harm than good.

You Decide

  1. Is it a good thing that some celebrities are boycotting the hotel?
  2. Are celebrities a help or a hindrance to charitable causes?

Activities

  1. Discuss in groups what you would do if you were a celebrity for a week.
  2. Design and draw your own cartoon strip to illustrate this story.

Some People Say...

“People often forget that celebrities are no different to them.’Sienna Miller”

What do you think?

Q & A

What has this got to do with me?
Some people say that we live in an age of ‘the cult of celebrity’ and that we are obsessed with the lives of the rich and famous. Nearly all of them seem to support charitable causes of one kind or another, but it is important to ask how genuine their commitment to their cause is, and what role in public life we expect celebrities to play. Should mega-rich celebrities lend a hand, or should that work be left to charities and governments?
Is it wrong that I want to be rich and famous when I grow up?
Not necessarily, although wanting to be famous for the sake of being famous might be a waste of your talents. Many people fail to realise that the majority of celebrities work hard to achieve their fame. Having a passion for what you do is the most important thing.

Word Watch

Brunei
Brunei regained its independence from the United Kingdom on 1 January 1984 and is now one of the richest countries in the world, thanks to oil and gas exports. Almost three-quarters of the population are Malay Muslims, but there are large Buddhist and Christian communities too.
Islamic laws
The new laws are based on Sharia law – Islam’s legal system, which is derived from the Koran.
Live Aid
The musician Bob Geldof was inspired to organise the 1985 dual music concerts in the UK and US after watching a BBC report on the devastating Ethiopian famine. The event raised over £150 million.
Peta
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is an American animal rights organisation, which believe that ‘animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.’

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