Bad 'Blood' between Simmons and Zwick
Russell Simmons is defending his trip to South Africa and Botswana against 'Blood Diamond' director Ed Zwick, who believes the hip-hop honcho was being used.
Africa has spawned a new civil war - this time between hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and Ed Zwick, director of the new Leo DiCaprio drama "Blood Diamond."
Simmons just returned from a nine-day fact-finding mission to South Africa and Botswana after an invitation from the industry's Diamond Information Center. Simmons came away with mostly positive impressions of how the diamond business has improved the lives of the poor there.
But Zwick suggests that DeBeers and other companies used Simmons as their PR puppet. "I find it embarrassing for Russell Simmons," Zwick told us.
Take Simmons' conclusion that the sale of "conflict diamonds" - used to finance the continent's bloody wars - has dropped to less than 1% since the Kimberley Process was set up in 2003 to stop the vicious trafficking in those gems.
"That's a funky number," Zwick said at his movie's Hollywood premiere. "That number comes from diamonds that are mined in countries that are 'war-declared.' Conflict diamonds are also mined in countries where there is not a 'declared war.' If you want to know about conflict diamonds, you don't go to Botswana and South Africa. You go to Sierra Leone and Angola. … Russell Simmons is being embarrassed."
"Damnit," said Simmons, when we relayed Zwick's dig. "Why did he say that?"
The music and fashion honcho admitted that his observations help to improve the image of DeBeers, which supplies his Simmons Jewelry. "They're smart businesspeople," he said. "But to suggest I'm a sellout is wrong. I'm not here to defend the past of these companies. I'm here to talk about the current reality. Diamonds pay for education and medical treatment in Africa."
Simmons charges that Zwick's movie, set in Sierra Leone in the 1990s, "scares people away from diamonds. That's why Nelson Mandela sent a message to Warner Bros. reminding them that Africans are depending on diamonds to rebuild their countries."
Speaking of scaring people, "Blood Diamond" co-star Djimon Hounsou told us that DiCaprio may have saved his life when an armed man came after him at a restaurant in South Africa.
"He was threatening me," Hounsou told us. "He showed his gun in the holster. He was telling Leo what he wanted to do to harm me. Leo said to the guy, 'Come on, man. Talk to me. What did he do to you?' Eventually [Leo] found out he didn't have any reason. It was just his jealousy. So Leo talked him out of it."
DiCaprio didn't want to make a big deal out of the incident, saying only: "I'm very proud of this movie. This film can actually translate into social change."
Originally appeared in Playahata.