The actress Mia Farrow first glimpsed the atrocities of Darfur—where 400,000 have been killed and two million have been driven from their homes—as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador. Since then, she has recast herself as one of the victims' most-eloquent (and -livid) outside advocates. When Khartoum blocked a U.N. effort to send troops in 2006, Farrow flayed the Sudanese and their accomplices—witting or otherwise. In op-eds and speeches, she joined a campaign against the 2008 Beijing Olympics, hoping to stigmatize China for its support of Sudan. And she even warned Steven Spielberg—a consultant for the upcoming event—that he risked becoming "the Leni Riefenstahl of the Beijing Games." Adam B. Kushner talked with the star of "Rosemary's Baby" and "Crimes and Misdemeanors" about moral outrage and raising hell.
KUSHNER: Is this your first foray into advocacy?
FARROW: I'd traveled for UNICEF and, before that, a couple of times for Nelson Mandela's children's charities in South Africa. But Darfur was a seminal moment for me. On the 10th anniversary of [the] Rwanda [genocide], I read an op-ed on Sudan by Samantha Power, and I called UNICEF and said, "I need to go to Darfur. Something terrible is happening." I scoured the Internet trying to inform myself, I read Alex de Waal's book—which is the manual—but it was interesting (in an appalling way) how little information was available.
Can celebrities be effective as political actors?
I knew that I had to do my utmost to address this. You do what you can with what you have available. And you are interviewing me. When I visit people who cannot speak to NEWSWEEK for themselves—it's an immense responsibility to have to represent them. And every day, I feel [that] I've failed in some way: there's something [that] I didn't think of, something [that] I could have done better.
What if we can't persuade the Sudanese government to let peacekeepers in?
In my last trip to eastern Chad—where I was really very close to the Darfur border and spoke to refugees—I realized that the only voice that has any weight for me now is the voice of the people who are actually enduring these atrocities. So I've stopped saying what is practical. My feeling is [to] let it be said what should be done—a nonconsensual deployment.
But if that's what we need and the United Nations won't do it, aren't you actually inviting somebody else to intervene? By that logic, you're calling for U.S. or NATO troops.
Intervention should have happened in 2004 and it didn't. So should NATO come in? Anyone should come in! The United Nations and all member states should [act] in a matter of days when we see a government slaughter its own people. That should be an automatic trigger; it shouldn't be deliberated for years.
Those are the same lessons [that] people took from the Nazi Holocaust: ["]If not now, when? If not me, who?["] Given his activism on exactly those issues, Steven Spielberg was a smart target.
I'd heard that he was going to participate in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games as the artistic director, and I thought, ["]Does he know?["] So I wrote him a letter, and he probably never got it, so it was time to write the op-ed. I've been six times into the region and I'm tired of people telling me to be "patient."
Has Spielberg shaped up?
He wrote to Chinese President Hu Jintao, and it was a fine letter, saying [that] he said [that] he didn't know of China's complicity. And I believe him. But what is he going to do about it? I would hope that he would withdraw his cooperation from the Games.
So many people have tried to make China a better world actor, but you figured out their Achilles' heel.
Chris Matthews once asked me, "What does China have to do with [Darfur]?" I had assumed that everyone knew, but they didn't. China was a huge player in the amount of money that was going to Sudan. Conservatively, 70 percent of that money was being used to attack the people of Darfur. I wasn't the only one to make these observations, and I didn't coin the phrase "Genocide Olympics." What caught me by surprise was China's reaction. It hasn't translated to anything on the ground, but it did get their attention.
It's not the way international relations are usually conducted. You're a guerrilla diplomat.
We're not constrained. But the people on the ground who are doing lifesaving work are muted, because [preserving] their access is paramount. Aid workers are in dangerous situations saving lives that the world has turned away from, but they can't speak out. They're under a lot of stress. One aid agency sent a professional stress counselor from headquarters, and that stress counselor left after three days, because it was too stressful.
You're certainly making a ruckus for a UNICEF goodwill ambassador.
I take off the UNICEF hat when I talk about Darfur. But it was impossible simply to come out of [Sudan] having held babies and say, "Well, that's that." I knew, after leaving Darfur, that I had to do anything [that] I could to end the suffering [that] I had seen, because I had a new moral obligation and a new credential: I am a witness.