The Warner Bros. movie has thrown the diamond industry into spin control. The World Diamond Council trade group has launched an estimated $15 million public-relations and education campaign to combat the movie's images of diamond smuggling from war-torn African countries.
Much is at stake for both sides. The film makes its debut during the heaviest selling season for the $60 billion-a-year worldwide diamond industry, and the U.S. accounts for nearly half of diamond-jewelry purchases. South Africa-based DeBeers, which markets more than 40% of the world's diamonds, has been front and center in the PR efforts.
For Warner Bros., a studio that's suffered this year from duds such as "Lady in the Water" and "Poseidon," "Blood Diamond" represents an Oscar contender and a potential bright light at the box office.
Diamond business nightmare
Watchdogs think a powerful Hollywood film that's well-received could be the diamond business' worst nightmare, causing a boycott of the gems that movies and TV shows for years have glamorized.
World Diamond Council executives said they don't think that will happen. "We welcome the opportunity to talk about what's been accomplished in reducing the number of conflict diamonds to less than 1%," said Carson Glover, WDC spokesman.
The WDC created a website, DiamondFacts.org, that touts recent reforms that claim to have taken most conflict diamonds out of circulation. A conflict diamond, or blood diamond, is so named because proceeds from its sale fund wars against legitimate governments. That rather innocuous definition doesn't include the civilian human-rights violations that typically surround the conflict-diamond trade. Industry watchdogs agree that progress has been made but say the percentage of conflict diamonds remains far higher than WDC estimates.
The WDC, flexing its own brand of star power, enlisted Nelson Mandela to talk about the economic benefits of diamond mining for the African population. Some 65% of the world's diamonds come from African countries. The group hired crisis-management firm Sitrick & Co. to direct its educational efforts, including full-page ads in U.S. newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times and USA Today.
Anticipating a wave of questions, the WCD has given retailers packets of information for themselves and for customers, detailing the fight to take conflict diamonds off the market via the U.N.-backed Kimberley Process.
The film, set during Sierra Leone's civil war in 1999, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as a soldier-turned-smuggler who's chasing a rare pink diamond.
Ed Zwick, the filmmaker, has steadfastly refused to change the film or add a disclaimer the WDC has requested saying that voluntary reforms have stamped out most conflict diamonds. Studio executives say the film is a fictionalized account set at a time in history when conflict diamonds were more common.
Biggest diamond-buying season
Warner Bros. executives decided to release the movie at holiday time, when serious Oscar-bait films often crowd the schedule, because it's a heavy-traffic time at the multiplex. The fact that it's also the biggest diamond-buying season did not affect the release date, executives said.
The movie doesn't intend to stop people from buying diamonds, but rather to get them "to ask questions and be informed," a Warner Bros. spokeswoman said. "We're on the same page with the World Diamond Council about education."
This isn't the first time the issue of conflict diamonds has come up in entertainment. Kanye West won a Grammy for his music video "Diamonds of Sierra Leone," and several prominent members of the hip-hop community have made a documentary called "Bling: A Planet Rock" that's expected to air on VH1. The History Channel has a separate documentary called "Blood Diamonds" airing in December.