Hollywood celebrities are stepping up to raise money and awareness to fight the ebola outbreak that has killed thousands in West Africa and recently spread to the United States. Stars such as David Beckham, Whoopi Goldberg, and Idris Elba are speaking out and making PSAs to spark a public response to the disease.
Footloose star Kevin Bacon went back to his dance roots to contribute to the #ShakeOffEbola social media campaign with a viral video.
"It was specifically about trying to raise money for another care facility in Sierra Leone, and it was an idea based on the fact that West Africa has a long history of dance," the actor said. "It’s obviously something we have to take as seriously as possible."
Some critics believe Hollywood is late to the cause.
"I think there was some of the 'not in my backyard' feeling going on when this was happening in another country," says Matt Belloni, executive editor of The Hollywood Reporter. "Now that it’s happening here, people are interested."
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Actor Idris Elba spoke on the ebola crisis in West Africa at last month’s Clinton Global Initiative. He feels his role as an actor and celebrity is to draw and keep public attention on the crisis, and bring support to those working to fight it.
"Yes, raising attention is important, but also, on the ground there are people that are working hard at treatment centers, and they lose morale when the cameras get turned away," he says.
Life may be imitating art for some celebs, like Nightcrawler star Rene Russo, who played an epidemiologist in the 1995 film Outbreak, which focused on a fictional, ebola-like virus.
"I was fortunate enough to sit with people at the CDC and I was like 'Okay guys, there’s been plagues from the beginning of time, is there going to be another one?'" the actress says of preparing for her role in the thriller. "And they were like, 'not if, but when.'"
Matt Belloni of The Hollywood Reporter believes movies like Outbreak and 2011’s Contagion affect how the public reacts to public health scares like the ebola virus.
"Hollywood has a long history of depicting viruses and medical problems," says Belloni. "I think the consciousness of the public is impacted by that."
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In fact, the viewing public might not have to wait much longer to see the current scare on their screens. The real-life story of the ebola virus, based on the 1994 nonfiction best-seller The Hot Zone, is being developed by Fox TV Studios as a limited series.
"It’s been in development for a while, but it’s definitely gotten a lot more heat in the last few weeks," says Belloni. "There’s going to be updates made that are really going to reflect what’s going on in the world right now."