A diamond is forever. A diamond is a girl’s best friend. Lucy in the sky with diamonds. Neil Diamond.
Call it bling, call it ice, call it the most beautifulest piece of sparkly you’ve ever seen and yes-yes-yes-I’ll-marry-you. Diamonds are more than just super-polished rocks. They symbolize true love and economic status. They adorn everything from ring fingers to pierced ears, gangsta grillz to bra straps.
But a recent string of films, music, and media coverage is beginning to shed light on the, shall we say, less-than-sparkling reputation of the industry that produces these gems. The New York Times has even called it “Hollywood’s multifaceted cause du jour.”
Perhaps the most publicized of these efforts, Blood Diamond, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Connelly, and Djimon Hounsou, opens in theaters today. Named for the stones mined in war zones and sold to finance the conflicts, the movie is set in the midst of Sierra Leone’s civil war. The story follows two African men — one (DiCaprio) a smuggler and the other (Hounsou) a fisherman sent to toil in the diamond fields — as they join in a quest to recover a priceless diamond that has the power to change their lives. Connelly plays an American journalist who (surprise, surprise) falls in love with the smuggler and gets entangled in their quest.
Though it focuses on the fictional story of the characters’ lives, the blockbuster film may also bring wide attention to the importance of buying “conflict-free” gems. The diamond industry has certainly taken notice, beginning a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign to offset any unfavorable publicity.
“It’s so rare that a film of this scale or magnitude, that is highly entertaining to an audience, also says something very pertinent to the world we live in, and is very specific about how we live in modern society,” DiCaprio said in an interview at the film’s premiere.
Two upcoming documentary films will also be drawing attention to conflict diamonds. Airing on the History Channel Dec. 23, Blood Diamonds [PDF] takes a historical look at the industry, highlighting West Africa. And in Bling: A Planet Rock, hip-hop artists visit Sierra Leone and speak out about the disadvantaged communities there.
Hip-hopper Kanye West has also become a supporter of “conflict-free” diamonds. After releasing a single that sampled the 1971 Bond theme “Diamonds Are Forever,” West learned of the plight of West African children mining the gems. He then used the music video to get this message out and recorded a remix of the song featuring Jay-Z, during which he talks about conflict diamonds. “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” went on to win the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Rap Song.
Also tuned to the issues, Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars, musicians who fled the country’s war zone and became the subject an award-winning documentary, have released their first album and are now touring the U.S.
Though none of these efforts explicitly focus on the environmentally destructive processes involved in diamond mining, the truth is it’s not pretty either.
Gristmill readers, have you seen Blood Diamond or any of the other documentaries mentioned here? Was it enough to dull your diamond desires?