There is a bizarre and fascinating PR war going on right now centering on Ed Zwick’s new Warner Bros film, Blood Diamond, which has Leonardo DiCaprio teaming up with a Kanye West song to draw attention to some of the evils of the African diamond trade. The diamond industry has been really skittish about this whole thing, going around decrying the movie and saying that they’ve been totally above board and not hobbling their employees since at least ten years ago. How progressive, DeBeers.
The back and forth took on a nasty slant this week when the New York Post’s execrable Page Six gossip column ran a piece about how Zwick and his production promised to buy prosthetic limbs for a bunch of amputee extras; when the limbs didn’t show up, they were supposedly told they would have to wait until December, when the movie opens, so that Warner Bros could get publicity out of it. Look, first of all, Warner Bros isn’t even that straightforward with me and I’m a fully belimbed white American middle level website guy. I love my Warners reps, but their job is to spin everything as nicely as possible. I can see a Warner rep telling these people they’ll have to wait until December, but not giving them their whole marketing strategy as an excuse.
Zwick got understandably mad about this and spoke out to Nikki Finke, telling her that a six-figure “Blood Diamond Fund” had been set up – and donated to by pretty much everyone involved in the movie – and that the money is going where it needs to go. "[T]he fund has targeted specific needs in those villages and some neighborhoods that were more improverished where we had worked,” he said. “To wit: one neighborhood was in terrible need of a well being dug, another neighborhood needed help with a septic system, still another had to repair road damage that was making it hard for villagers to go to and from work, still another needed a classroom repaired, and so on. And replacement of prosthetics was among the them."
That makes some sense – get to the stuff that’s most urgent. And Zwick also goes on to say that while a six-figure fund seems like a small amount, the film’s location shoot pumped tens of millions of dollars into the local economy and helped the local infrastructure. Movie crews need roads and stuff, you know, and they don’t tear it down when they’re all done with it.
So that was Monday and Tuesday. Now Page Six is back with more Blood Diamond hate, this time about a local FX guy who had his hand blown off. Here’s what Page Six had to say: “One source on the set in South Africa told Page Six, ‘Warner Bros. was too cheap to bring in a special-effects guy from the U.S. They used a local guy, and there was an accident and the guy lost his hand. It’s ironic because they also brought in orphans for extras who had lost their limbs from machete-wielding rebel soldiers in the war – and this guy lost a hand on set.’” Too cheap or put money into the local economy?
The newest Page Six story eventually reports, four paragraphs in: “He was immediately evacuated to a medical facility. The accident was investigated by local authorities and it was determined that proper procedures were followed. The studio has provided [Visage] with appropriate assistance, a prosthetic hand and compensation and he is now back to work.” Oh. Well, that’s not much of a story after all, is it?
I have called out Ed Zwick for making “Thank God for White People!” movies, and Blood Diamond looks like one of those films. But if it’s agitating the diamond industry this much, it might be a worthwhile picture after all.