Mia Farrow Launches Hunger Strike Over Darfur

Mia Farrow recently announced she was going to launch a hunger strike. Why now? It was three days ahead of the premiere of the latest Woody Allen movie. Coincidence?

True, Woody Allen movies come out so frequently that it would be difficult to stage a humanitarian protest at a moment when he wasn't either releasing a movie, announcing his next project, or getting mentioned at the Oscars. Maybe Farrow means business.

Or maybe she doesn't. In a Huffington Post piece telling the world about her Darfur diet -- she'll be drinking water only, she says, starting next Monday (don't all of us put off our starting our new weight-loss regimen?) -- Farrow says that her reasons are to register "solidarity with the people of Darfur" (do starving Sudanese refugees read the Huffington Post?) and "outrage at a world that is somehow able to stand by and watch innocent men, women and children needlessly die of starvation, thirst and disease." That's a pretty broad reach of indignation. People have always died of starvation, thirst, and disease. People are dying of disease right now in the neighborhood where Farrow lived for many years. Is Farrow outraged by every death? Or is it just the "needless" ones that bother her?

The Darfur atrocities, though, aren't needless in the sense of being random or without purpose. Sudan's dictator, Omar al-Bashir, is an Islamist Arab whose militias have been ruthlessly exterminating farmers in a racially-fueled grab for land, resources, and power. If somebody dies in his warm hospital bed on the Upper West Side because a doctor got careless and infected him during surgery, maybe that's a pointless death. The deaths caused by Bashir are pointed. They're intentional. And he isn't sitting around thinking, "The value of the lives of black African farmers depends on the views of that woman who was so delightful in Purple Rose of Cairo."

Like most hunger strikes, this one (yes, it'll be Twittered) is meant not to cause change directly, but to generate publicity that could someday lead to change. If only more of us were aware, goes this line of thinking, we could stop the slaughter. Sort of the way applause brings Tinkerbell back to life.

Farrow writes: "I hope human rights advocates and citizens of conscience around the world will join me in some form of fasting, even if for one day." Since most citizens command no publicity ("Hello, local newspaper? I'm fasting for one day. Can you send a team of reporters?") what Farrow is suggesting here is merely that individuals internalize Darfur -- join the victims in a brotherhood of pain, become tourists of suffering, feel better about themselves by feeling worse. Farrow's website seems to be devoted entirely to Darfur. You won't find a lot of dish about the making of Rosemary's Baby.

Darfur has already been thoroughly publicized. If the genocide could be halted by celebrity talk, it would have ended when George Clooney discussed Darfur on Jay Leno's show. The years go by, the guests sit down on the couch and get up from the couch, and Omar al-Bashir goes on killing.

Farrow seems to be admitting the pointlessness of her exercise when she talks about the end of her fast: "When I can no longer continue, I pray another will take my place." If being unable to "continue" means unable to continue fasting, it sounds like she's already made a date with the all-you-can-eat buffet. People fast for a few days all the time. They "detox." They "cleanse." Is Farrow asking a brutal dictator to take note of her spa schedule?

A strike isn't really a strike unless it carries a threat of being open-ended. Maybe by "when I can no longer continue," Farrow means "no longer continue to speak" because she is planning on sticking to her guns. Maybe she is anticipating her strike ending not with a buffet but with martyrdom.

If so, the answer to the question "Why now?" seems to be: Maybe Farrow just saw a movie on this subject. A month ago, the harrowing film Hunger, about the 1981 IRA hunger strikes, hit theaters. It shows  Bobby Sands, who makes clear in a conversation with a priest that he knows his strike will end in his death, but also knows that it is necessary to make a political point. "The men will start consecutively two weeks apart," Sands says in the movie. "Somebody dies, they'll be replaced. There's no shortage of us." Farrow says, chillingly, "I pray another will take my place." I hope she isn't going to throw away her life. I used to act out scenes I saw in movies too. But I was 12, and the movie was Superman.