Syria, Gratitude, and Hollywood Do-Gooders


At the time of writing this article, President Obama announced that he intends to attack Syria for its alleged use of chemical weapons pending Congressional vote.

As an NGO director, I work in and have visited parts of the world that have seen nothing but armed conflict, genocide, extreme desperation and suffering.  His announcement wasn’t exactly one I was high-fiving.  Countless questions like “Why did you wait until now? People have been suffering for so long. What happens to all the refugees? What happens to the innocent women, men and children that your ‘attack’ will devastate?” rattled through my head.  These questions and more were echoed by many the world over including – and most importantly – Syrian journalists as well as Syrian citizens and activists on the ground.

In times like these, the concept of finding the good (in the world) becomes incredibly important to me as does taking the time to give genuine thanks for the life I live. It may seem like a small insignificant act to some – and it is. But it’s a small act that allows my perception of the world and what’s important to shift.

For example, I play make believe for a living. People actually pay me to have my face painted, wear a costume, eat free food and then pretend I’m someone else. Also, an eternity of gratitude must be bestowed on the fact I’m a new immigrant in the US. After years of dedicated work to achieve this goal – it happened and I now live full time in Los Angeles. I have gratitude for my body’s good health: I can move, taste, touch, hear, speak and see without hindrance.  I have access to food, water and shelter in LA.  I have freedom of expression and freedom of movement in LA. I do not fear landmines outside my door nor bombs dropping from the sky in LA.  I don’t fear having acid thrown on me or being a casualty of IED in LA.  As a woman I don’t require a male escort, by law, at all times; it is my right to drive, to vote, to pursue any career or education, to live free from harm.

I’m grateful that playing make believe for a living gave me financial resources as well as the confidence to found an NGO and speak out on something I believe in. I’m grateful for the idea that has used me in the journey to serve others in a meaningful way.  I’m also profoundly grateful that in an industry where people – regardless of station or perceived status – can easily get caught up in the wrong things, there are many who choose to use their existence, abundance and ‘celebrity’ for causes and initiatives beyond the scope of ‘Hollywood’.

So in the spirit of true empowerment – which is staying in the light regardless of circumstance – here’s my top 5 list (in no particular order) of women power players in entertainment who have devoted their lives to doing good things. Remember how I said it’s important to make good art?  Well that’s what these women do on the daily:

Jada Pinkett-Smith is founder of Don’t Sell Bodies. She is a very vocal advocate, passionately dedicated to ending human trafficking and modern-day slavery. She is also a strong voice for empowered women, empowered families and teaching girls to understand their value.

Salma Hayek Pinault is a vocal advocate, alongside Jada, for ending human trafficking. She directed this video about sex slaves and human trafficking staring Jada. She is also co-founder of and head of the film unit for Chime for Change.

Abigail Disney has been an activist for a long time. She’s a producer and filmmaker delivering important social justice-based stories with an emphasis on women’s issues through documentaries. She is the co-founder of Daphne Foundation.  Watch the gripping trailer for her incredible mini-series, ‘Women, War & Peace.’

Angelina Jolie, UN Special Envoy for refugees, has been an activist for refugees over a decade. She wrote and directed ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’, a film about rape camps in the Bosnian war. Although she knew westerners may not like the film, she made it for the survivors and only cared that the story served and respected them. Here, she speaks about Syria and its refugees.

Oprah has been an innovator and change-maker in the world for decades starting with challenging the status quo of women’s salaries as hosts, then having her own show, then her own network.  She is a relentless philanthropist of extraordinary measure finding ways to create opportunity and inspire the masses. She is founder of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.

When I look to these women and the countless dedicated change-makers in the entertainment industry, I feel inspired and grateful.  Sure there are some really heavy things going on in the world. But so long as each of us takes the time to do good in our own way – however big or small – we will see change.

Stay blessed, keep your head right, and make good art.