Why 'Hunger Games' Actor Jeffrey Wright Cares About Ebola (Exclusive)
For Hunger Games' Jeffrey Wright, the current Ebola outbreak is hitting close to home.
Not home in Brooklyn, where the actor, who plays “Beetee” in the blockbuster franchise, lives. Wright runs two projects far from Hollywood: the gold exploration company Taia Lion Resources Inc., and its sister, Taia Peace Foundation, for social development in rural Sierra Leone.
“We were obviously concerned when we heard the initial reports,” Wright told The Hollywood Reporter. “The epicenter of the outbreak is a town called Gueckedou, Guinea, about 40 kilometers from the border with Penguia chiefdom in Sierra Leone, where the focus of my company and foundation’s activities have been for over a decade.”
After filming Ali on the continent, Wright started the company in an attempt to keep the profits from Africa’s natural resources in Africa. Currently, he’s monitoring the situation on the ground where a dozen local staffers risk exposure.
This Ebola outbreak, which the World Health Organization (WHO) says has claimed more than 887 lives, was first recorded in Guinea in March and is the worst in the disease's history. Now the contagion’s epicenter has shifted to Sierra Leone, according to Doctors Without Borders.
“My concern is as much with the people we work with directly as it is with the larger population of Sierra Leone,” Wright said. “One of the enablers for the historic proportions of the outbreak is that in the rural areas of Sierra Leone and Guinea and Liberia, there’s essentially zero medical infrastructure in place. Zero.
“Beyond that, we’ve read in some of these reports there’s an intense mistrust of the West and Western medicines because of a history of exploitative development issues,” Wright added, noting that this was the impetus behind his enterprise. He cited reports of patients being taken away from medical centers and forsaking treatment because of a belief that Western groups are responsible for the infection.
Wright had plans to visit to Sierra Leone this month, but scheduling conflicts with his "other line of work" — shooting HBO’s Boardwalk Empire (he plays Valentin Narcisse) in New York — have delayed the trip. THR caught up with him just before the White House U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, which started July 4.
"I'm watching but also communicating with folks on the ground there to ascertain which ways we can be helpful from a distance in the intervention," Wright said. In the meantime, the Ebola crisis has affected short-term priorities for Taia Peace Foundation, which diverted some small funds — about $1,500 — from agricultural projects to procuring basic medical supplies, such as chlorine and gloves, to fight the epidemic in Penguia.