Obama shift on gay marriage unleashes Hollywood's star power (+video)
Just as Obama is heading to Hollywood for what promises to be a blockbuster fundraiser, his shift on gay marriage is getting rave reviews in the entertainment world.
Studio City, Calif.
PresidentÂ Obama made history when he became the first sittingÂ US president to announce support for gay marriage on Wednesday.
His campaign hopes to make historyÂ again on Thursday whenÂ the candidate for reelection heads to Hollywood for what could be the single most lucrative presidential campaign fundraiser yet.Â Unofficial estimates of the eveningâ€™s haul are running at $15 million.
The neatly-timed announcement on gay marriage, political pundits and gay rights activists say, has given the Obama candidacy fresh steam in the entertainment world as he headsÂ toward a face-off with presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
â€śHollywood has many faces,â€ť says Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political scientist at the University of Southern California. â€śSo you cannot necessarily make a blanket statement.â€ťÂ Nonetheless, she says, there were many in various segments of Hollywood â€“ from the business executives to the middle-class union workers â€“ who felt that Obama had not made good on campaign promises. â€śThis announcementÂ gives fresh energy to Obamaâ€™s appeal acrossÂ many sectors inside Hollywood,â€ť she says.
The payoff has begun immediately, with iconic TV producer Norman Lear announcing that afterÂ withholding support for Obamaâ€™s reelection, he and his wifeÂ will pony up $40,000 each for the nightâ€™s festivities.
Openly gay LatinoÂ superstar Ricky Martin announced Wednesday that he will host a fundraiserÂ on May 14 in New York, saying in a statement quoted on the Broadway world site,Â "I believe Barack Obama has shown a deep conviction to help those most in need, even if their voices are not always the ones heard the loudest in Washington.â€ť
He went on to sayÂ that Obama â€śhas also been an exceptionally strong advocate for the Latino and LGBT communities, leading us to precedent-setting milestones such as the appointment of the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. â€¦ I believe the president has put the United States back on the right path and has earned the opportunity to finish the critical work that he has started."
While it is easy to scoff at celebrities-as-politicos, itâ€™s important not to underestimate their reach, says Rich Ferraro, a spokesman for the gay rights advocacy group, GLAAD.Â â€śThey are influencers of the larger culture,â€ť he says, â€śand when popular entertainers support an issue or a candidate, theirÂ Â exposure matters.â€ť
He points to the explosion of celebrity tweets all over Twitter in supportÂ of Obamaâ€™s newly stated stance on gay marriage.Â People from Russell Simmons to Alec BaldwinÂ are speaking their minds, says Mr. Ferraro. â€śThis also means that when someone like Russell Simmons speaks out, his comments get picked up not just on the mainstream media, but in black media andÂ entertainment media as well.â€ť
The Thursday night fundraiserÂ is slated for the Fryman Canyon home of actor George Clooney in Studio City, where A-listÂ actors andÂ executives such as Robert Downey Jr. and Jeffrey KatzenbergÂ will mingle withÂ the other 150 or so luminaries who forked over the $40,000 priceÂ of entry.
Joining them will be two winners of an online raffle. This record-breaking strategyÂ dangled two spots at the fundraiser for anyone willing to donate the suggested $3 or more in an online drawing.
This points to another importantÂ facet of the Obama campaign, the power of the small donor in contrast to the big celebrity, says Gordon Coonfield, professor of communication at Villanova UniversityÂ in Philadelphia.
â€śFrom what other media outlets have reported concerning Obama's fundraising, it isn't the rich and famous who do the bulk of the donating â€“ it is ordinary, everyday Americans,â€ť he says. Indeed, if the $15 millionÂ Â materializes from the event, it would mean that far more than halfÂ cameÂ from small donors.
Locals such as Lisa Swane,Â an unemployed nurse who lives in Fryman Canyon,Â anticipates aÂ nightmare traffic block on Thursday, but says Obama made the right move.
â€śIâ€™m not thrilled about the traffic this is going to cause,â€ť she says, sitting in a Studio City StarbucksÂ and reading an article about the possible record intake at the Clooney soirĂ©e, â€śbut I think Obama is smart to tap Hollywood because he needs their deep pockets to offset Romneyâ€™s millions.â€ť
Starbucks barrista Andrew ManusÂ age 20, who just moved from Las Vegas, doesnâ€™t think Obama needs the money at all, but feels the presidentâ€™s clarified stance in favor of gay marriageÂ will â€śmost definitely help Hollywood types to open their wallets. It was a very smart move.â€ť
Staff writer Daniel B. Wood contributed to this report.