By Amy & Nancy Harrington, Pop Culture Passionistas
This week a Hollywood heavy-hitter continues to give up glamour for giving, a “Survivor” raises AIDS awareness through soccer, and everyone’s favorite octagenarian sells beefcake for pets. Here are this week’s most inspirational pop culture moments.
Sean Penn Is the Real Deal in Haiti
Six months after a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, the stories are still bleak–rubble still not being cleared, tarp-and-tent camps expanding as 1.6 million people remain homeless. And some frustration has been expressed that President Rene Preval recently awarded medals to celebrities like Anderson Cooper and Sean Penn, dubbing them Knights of the National Order of Honor and Merit.
It’s easy to sit all these many miles away and wonder if newsmen and actors are in it for the right reasons. After all, some stars will do anything for publicity. But if you’ve got any doubt that Sean Penn’s heart is in the right place, we’re here to clear things up.
We recently participated in a telephone interview with “The Bourne Identity” director and “Covert Affairs” producer Doug Liman. He has personally spent time in Haiti with the “Milk” Academy Award winner. He explained Penn’s dedication to the rebuilding of the ravaged country:
“The really interesting thing is when I first got there with Sean it was right after the earthquake, nobody was living inside. Everybody was living in a tent. Most people were living on the runway, one of the taxiways at the airport because that was sort of semi-safe. Where Sean was out in the middle of Port au Prince at this… country club and the interesting thing was when I went back a month and a half ago, almost all the other non-profits down there, those people have all moved into homes or hotels. Sean is still in literally the exact same tent he was in in mid-January. It gives a real sense of urgency to helping these people when you yourself are living under the same conditions they are.”
“I had the same kind of eye-rolling attitude about what is a movie star going to possibly accomplish in Haiti that I’m sure everyone on this call has hearing about it. I’m as cynical as they come. I hear about Edwards going down there handing out food and I’m like, ‘That guy’s just trying to take focus away from his marriage.’ I’m really as cynical as they come.”
“What Sean is doing there is simply remarkable and inspirational. And personally inspirational that I live in New York City, I’m surrounded by people who work in non-profits, lawyers who do pro-bono work on the side, and I’m like, ‘I’m a filmmaker. What can I really do?’ Seeing what Sean is doing in Haiti, the two kinds of people that are operating best in that war zone is the military and the filmmakers who are down there. Filmmakers know how to go into an environment with minimal infrastructure, and get sh*t done.”
Fighting AIDS through Soccer with Ethan Zohn
Ethan Zohn is a true inspiration. After a grueling battle fighting his own cancer (now in remission) the “Survivor: Africa” winner is even more dedicated to combating HIV/AIDS in Africa. Seven years ago the reality show winner took part of his winnings to start Grassroot Soccer, a non-profit company dedicated to educating African youth about AIDS with the help of professional soccer players. This month his work came full-circle at the World Cup in South Africa.
In his pre-”Survivor life,” Ethan was a pro soccer player. He spent two years in Africa competing in the sport. He also discovered the beauty of the country and the devastation of AIDS. When the reality show brought him back to Africa a few years later, he knew fate was telling him his mission.
And now after years of hard work, Zohn has been part of another fateful event. In 2004, FIFA announced that the 2010 World Cup would take place in South Africa. Finally a global platform to get the word out about Africa’s natural riches and horrendous epidemic. Zohn told MSNBC, “In the same month that the World Cup is taking place nearly 23,000 South Africans will die of AIDS. Each day about 4,000 people are dying across Africa. What’s crazy is that they are dying of a preventable disease. AIDS is a preventable disease.”
Grassroot Soccer teamed up with (RED) to create a youth camp, the Grassroot Soccer (RED) Holiday Skillz Program, giving the children of the area a safe, healthy, educational place to go while the schools were shut down for the tournament. During the week-long program kids learned about preventing and fighting AIDS, played some soccer, and watched the World Cup in a safe environment.
Zohn said the philosophy taught to the kids at GRS “is to find a great support system, to have a positive attitude, to stay healthy, and you can extend your life,” a message he adopted in his own recent brave battle with cancer.
The ever-dedicated Zohn is also in the midst of writing a series of children’s books. The first two are on bookstore shelves now “Soccer World South Africa” and “Soccer World Mexico” and the third is in the works.
Betty White: We Love Our Calendar Girl
Betty White is the hottest 88-year-old in history. There’s the now famous Facebook campaign that got her a gig hosting “Saturday Night Live,” her recent Emmy nomination for that very same guest spot, plus a new series “Hot in Cleveland” (which just got picked up for Season 2). It looks like the roll Betty is on is not slowing down.
Next up for the actress? A calendar to benefit the cause most near and dear to her heart–pets and wildlife. The pin-up girl spread features twelve months of Betty. Some of the shots are old images from her illustrious career, but most are of the octogenarian surrounded by animals–both the four-legged kind and the shirtless, muscular, glistening two-legged variety.
The 2011 calendar hits the streets in September. All Betty’s proceeds will go to The Morris Animal Foundation in Denver, Colorado.
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