Zwick: The Industry Needs to Do More

It took JCK many months to land an interview with Blood Diamond director Edward Zwick (Glory, The Last Samurai), and by the time we reached him in mid-March, he said he felt talked out about the subject and worried he was repeating himself. Zwick also stressed—several times—that his fullest thoughts on the diamond industry could be gleaned from his speech at the Rapaport Diamond Conference, excerpts of which are on page 162. Despite his reluctance to talk, Zwick did say some interesting things in this interview, about the industry, the “diamondfacts” campaign, and his current thoughts about diamonds.

JCK: Can you give us your thoughts on the Rapaport Diamond Conference you attended in February?

Edward Zwick: What I believe is that no institution is a monolith—whether that’s the military or the film industry or the diamond industry. It’s made up of individuals. Some of them are single-minded and venal. Some of them are in denial. And clearly there are some in the industry that want to do more. There are those in the industry that were in denial but are in denial no more and have an impulse to rectify.

Clearly, there are a lot of people who believe they want and deserve credit for what [the industry has] done. That is the position I find most difficult to sympathize with. Anything the industry has done has been little compared to how much it has benefited. Indeed, there needs to be more done and it needs to be not just toward Botswana and South Africa, but throughout Africa. There were a lot of proposals discussed and talk is important, but talk is cheap and it will be interesting to see from afar what is created or acted upon.

JCK: What did you think of the industry’s “diamondfacts” campaign?

EZ: It is clear that the purpose of an industry media campaign is to enhance its image. To that end they went to great lengths to trumpet their good works. I think that that’s all fine, except [their message was often] in direct opposition to the statements many of the industry leaders have made. When you talk to some of the heads of De Beers, they talk about how they need to be more vigilant about the Kimberley Process. They will say that to each other, but it’s not reflected in their media. I understand the necessity and inevitability of self-promotion and the celebration of corporate largesse, but I hope that those private and questioning statements and recognition of foibles and weaknesses will find its expression in real policy and real work.

JCK: Was there anything the industry did that you thought was going too far?

EZ: I think to encourage those letters from Nelson Mandela [to the head of Warner Bros.]—I am assuming they encouraged them—was a little bit silly.

JCK: Your partner, Marshall Herskovitz, said he thought the industry was more hostile to the film in the beginning.

EZ: When you look at some of the statements archivally, I think there was initially great fear and defensiveness. I like to think the best public position was to embrace the film’s message.

JCK: Why did you object to Russell Simmons’s press event so much?

EZ: I just felt that the timing of that particular press conference [three days before the film opened] could not have been anything but managed, to blunt some perceived impact from the opening of the film. I applaud anybody who wants to do anything good. Russell Simmons is well intentioned, but when he next goes on a so-called fact-finding trip to learn about the state of the diamond industry, there are others who could prepare an itinerary that would be even more edifying.

JCK: Do you think the movie affected diamond sales?

EZ: You would be a better judge of that than me. I am not privy to statistics. The point was the raising of awareness [of the issue]. There is ample evidence that that took place.

JCK: Do you think it has affected how people in Hollywood feel about diamonds?

EZ: Like the diamond industry, Hollywood is also not a monolith. There are those that have taken real notice. There are those to whom it means little or nothing at all.

JCK: Where do you think the diamond industry should go from here?

EZ: In my speech [at Rapaport] I made several grand and idealistic proposals. They are based on nothing but emotion and a kind of layman’s appreciation of the circumstances.

JCK: Will you continue to be engaged in this issue?

EZ: It’s difficult from the outside to be engaged with how the industry regulates or governs itself. Clearly, the reason that the NGOs exist is they presume to serve the interest of those nonprofessionals who are affected or interested in the issue.

JCK: What were your trips like to Sierra Leone?

EZ: I voyaged there two times, and, as you can imagine, it is a dispiriting place. On the other hand, it is full of vibrant and industrious people trying to come back. It is my regret not including more of that spirit in the movie.

JCK: You’ve said that you have never owned or bought any diamonds in the past, so making this movie is not likely to influence any future purchases. But what would you say to someone thinking of buying a diamond who asked you for advice?

EZ: My attitude toward diamonds was already complex before this movie. I’ve never understood the fascination with diamonds, just as I’ve never understood the fascination with Prada shoes and Kate Spade handbags. I find that to be mystifying and not the way I tend to live my life.

Long before diamonds were associated with love, they were associated with power. Even the hip-hop assumption of diamonds as a totem was not just the expression of success. So I was predisposed to question their allure.

I believe in the years to come that every luxury business will increasingly come under scrutiny from a more conscious consuming public. If I were thinking about buying a diamond, I would want to learn more about the role this particular diamond played in the development of the place from where it came.