Hollywood Power Philanthropy: How Disney's Bob Iger, Kristen Bell, Amber Heard and More Are Giving Back

6:30 AM 7/12/2019

by Kirsten Chuba

Imagine Dragons' Dan Reynolds, Viacom's Bob Bakish, Virgin Group's Richard Branson, Sony's Tom Rothman, ICM's Chris Silbermann and Warner Bros.' Blair Rich also open up about their commitment to doing good.

From left: Bob Iger, Kristen Bell and Amber Heard
From left: Bob Iger, Kristen Bell and Amber Heard
Getty Images

Among those leading the philanthropy charge in Hollywood are stars, studio heads, network execs and agency partners who use their powerful platforms for good. For Disney's Bob Iger, that means a $100 million donation to revamp and serve children's hospitals; for Amber Heard, it's visiting refugee camps in Lebanon; for Virgin Group's Richard Branson, it's through environmental initiatives. Here's how 12 Hollywood plower players are giving back, in and outside of entertainment companies.

  • Bob Iger

    Disney CEO

    Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

    In March 2018, Iger announced a $100 million commitment over five years to children's hospitals globally, called "Disney Team of Heroes." The initiative also united the Walt Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and ESPN brands in bringing screenings and parties hosted by such stars as Avengers: Endgame's Tom Holland and Chris Evans to U.S. hospitals.

    Part of the Team of Heroes plan involves revamping children’s hospitals with interactive Disney entertainment, murals and hospital gowns, starting with the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. Disney also sends their films, just a week after they're released in theaters, to more than 100 hospitals nationwide so that kids can keep up with the latest movies.

    "Seeing the joy on these kids' faces when they spend time with one of their favorite characters brings tears to your eyes," Iger tells THR. "I'm always so inspired by the kids' courage, determination and positive attitude under the most difficult circumstances." AddsToy Story 4's Tim Allen, who with co-star Tom Hanks kicked off in Orlando the company's annual toy delivery across 450 hospitals: "I'll be honest with you, I've seen and been a part of where Disney does a lot of stuff like this, and it's really pretty magical."

  • Kristen Bell

    Actress

    Kristen Bell
    Kristen Bell
    Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

    Immigration organization Immigrant Families Together works with partners to pay bonds that free asylum seekers and allow them to reunite with their families after being separated by the Trump administration's so-called "zero tolerance" policy. Bell told THR that when she first heard on the news that families were being separated at the border, she didn't think it was true. But after researching the facts, she knew she had to get involved.

    "I teach my family that there’s no such thing as other people’s children; that our empathy can and should reach far beyond the boundaries of our four walls. My children hold me accountable for everything, annoyingly so," Bell says. "If I say I’ll take them to get a donut two Mondays from now, it is 100 percent guaranteed that at 8 a.m. that Monday they will say, 'You said we could get a donut today!' They keep me in check, and I knew one day my children would read a history book and say, 'You said there’s no such thing as other people’s children. What did you do to help?' So, I felt compelled to act but I didn’t know how."

    In her search, she stumbled upon Immigrant Families Together, which organizes fundraisers to pay bail bonds and recruits volunteers to drive parents cross-country to reunite with their children. For Bell's 38th birthday, she organized a fundraiser to pay the bail bonds for a woman named Delmi, who for 10 months was lost in the system. The Frozen star said that when she got the call "that Delmi was finally on her way to her little ones, it was one of the happiest moments I’ve experienced in a long time."

  • Bob Bakish

    Viacom CEO

    Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for MTV

    On May 10, Viacom held its annual employee volunteering event, Viacommunity Day, to help with causes across the board. "I've been lucky to participate in my favorite event every year since I began at Viacom in 1997," Bakish says of the day that drew 6,000 employees in 25 countries. "This year, I was at our Manhattan headquarters packaging meals for families impacted by natural disasters. In the past, I've volunteered at emergency shelters and assisted in local park cleanups. But the constant for me is the passion and heart our employees bring. It's become our most important tradition." Adds Paramount CEO Jim Gianopulos, who with employees rebuilt a classroom for visually impaired students at L.A.'s Frances Blend Elementary School: "While there, we focused on refurbishing the life skills room, where visually impaired students learn skills that we take for granted, like how to use a stove, make a bed and do laundry. This really put things into perspective, and was very moving for me and other Paramount team members." 150 employees also spent time cleaning up and restoring Paramount Ranch, which was destroyed in November's Woolsey Fire.

  • Amber Heard

    Actress

    Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
    With Syrian American Medical Society, which gives medical aid to Syrian refugees, Heard has traveled to Jordan and Lebanon in the last two years for medical mission trips. "I visited Omariya in Lebanon, one of the only camps dedicated to women and their children, the most vulnerable subset of refugees," says Heard. "Severely lacking in resources, the camp is run by a male chief who holds sole control. Once a son reaches the age of 12, mothers are faced with the heartbreaking decision either to see their sons kicked out or leave with the family into inhospitable terrain. While their situation is dire, I have found an unshakable strength, dignity and humanity."
  • Richard Branson

    Virgin Group Founder

    Getty Images

    Branson's Virgin Foundation has pledged to have Virgin Atlantic be powered by at least 30 percent biofuel by 2020. "I honestly think the airline industry takes climate change seriously now," says Branson. "We support a company called Lanzatech that grabs aluminum and steel plants' waste product as it goes."

    Branson, who calls himself a "serial philanthropist" and says climate change is one of the biggest threats currently facing the world, has also taken on an increasingly political role in "trying to persuade governments to change their approach to climate change, making suggestions as to how we think it can be tackled and that we can get on top of the problem quickly."

  • Dan Reynolds

    Singer-musician

    Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage

    With his nonprofit, LoveLoud Foundation, Imagine Dragons' lead singer says he aims "to destigmatize being LGBTQ — to give our youth the same opportunities and safety as our heterosexual youth" by donating funds, including proceeds from his annual Utah LoveLoud music festival, to more than 25 nonprofits, such as The Trevor Project, which runs 24/7 crisis hotlines.

    "We want every child to feel completely at ease with their identity. It would be a great day when our youth no longer feel the need to 'come out' to their friends and family," Reynolds says. "I have never had to sit my parents down and tell them 'I am heterosexual.' I never have had to live in fear of holding my girlfriend's hand in a parking garage."

    This year's LoveLoud Festival, held on June 29, featured Kesha, Martin Garrix, Reynolds, Tegan and Sara, Daya and Grouplove. "Beyond the money raised, I've had countless conversations with LGBTQ youth who came out to parents at the actual LoveLoud festival or after it," he says.

    Reynolds, a Utah native, also raises money for "local groups like Encircle, which offers safe spaces with therapy and community for LGBTQ youth to gather in Provo and Salt Lake City that offer therapy and a sense of community."  

  • Michael Burns

    Lionsgate Vice Chairman

    At Sen. Kamala Harris’ suggestion and in partnership with the UCLA Anderson School, Burns’ studio has begun a paid internship program with Howard University in Washington, D.C., to increase inclusion across the entertainment industry. Three students pursuing entertainment careers are interns at Lionsgate, with eight more at other studios. "We’re pleased to provide a launch platform for many deserving students,” says Burns. "Greater diversity and inclusion makes our industry, films and TV series better in every way."

  • Tom Rothman

    Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman

    Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

    "The great myth of the National Endowment of the Arts is that its work favors big cities and established large cultural institutions, when in fact it supports the arts in every single congressional district in America, red, blue or purple," says Rothman, who has served on the board of CalArts and the National Council for the Arts, which oversees the NEA, and also supports Harlem Lacrosse, a mentorship program in five cities including Los Angeles and New York. "In many rural communities, the NEA is crucial to the very survival of the arts — no government agency serves a more truly representative and diverse population."

  • Peter Roth

    Warners TV Chief Content Officer

    Gabriel Olsen/FilmMagic

    Since 2017, WB Access to Action has given people without industry connections and outside the typical entertainment fold access to PA jobs, bringing a diverse group into production offices, postproduction, set dressing, wardrobe and location. The program, which recruits from Ghetto Film School and Atlanta’s Georgia Film Academy, among others, has placed more than 60 PAs in seven cities on 18 productions, including Lucifer, You and Michael B. Jordan starrer Just Mercy.

    "Having so many of our shows and their crews participating in this important initiative, with many more set for this summer and beyond, demonstrates a collaborative, long-overdue effort toward changing the status quo in our business,” says Roth. Adds driving force Kevin Fortson, Warner Horizon exec vp production: “So often people have not had the opportunity to break in without a connection, and it shouldn’t be that way. The need for content is exploding now, and the faces onscreen are diversified — the people who contribute behind the camera to create our content should be, too.”

  • Chris Silbermann

    ICM Partners managing director

    Through the agency’s Politics division led by Hannah Linkenhoker, clients and employees engage in such democratic initiatives as "a reproductive rights forum with Planned Parenthood and presidential candidate meet-and-greets" to stay informed about civic issues, says Silbermann. "Having Barack Obama to my house and to meet my family was a high point," he adds. "I am reminded of what a true leader is, someone who can provide a real moral compass."

    ICM has hosted forums and speeches for presidential candidates Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar, as well as for Chelsea Clinton, former Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, and former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, and has made a push for female initiatives and empowerment within the company, including taking part in 50/50 by 2020.

  • Graham Taylor

    Endeavor Content co-president

    Courtesy of Endeavor Content

    Says Taylor of a recent visit by more than 100 L.A. employees to California State Prison in Lancaster that underlines the priority for criminal justice reform: "Hearing the stories, we saw the courage it took for men to surrender gang life within the prison and push for change in themselves, at the risk of their own security." The company is committed to The Anti-Recidivism Coalition, which provides support for formerly incarcerated individuals, and The Bail Project, which aims to combat mass incarceration. Taylor adds: "It’s a part of the mission to build a bridge to marginalized communities." WME’s Endeavor Foundation as a whole is also focusing on human rights issues of criminal justice reform and bail funding, voter registration and political involvement, and industry inclusion.

  • Blair Rich

    Warner Bros. worldwide marketing president

    Courtesy of Subject

    "Ten years ago, I met a pregnant mother at our then-shelter," says Rich, a longtime proponent of homeless nonprofit LA Family Housing. "The baby was diagnosed with liver failure. LA Family Housing got the baby a transplant and helped secure housing. We’re facing an undeniable crisis, but think of it as one person, one family, one kid at a time," she adds.

    Rich has been a major proponent of LA Family Housing for more than a decade, hosting the annual LA Family Housing Awards, which brings in Warner Bros. talent including Dwayne Johnson, Michael B. Jordan, Ice Cube and Ronda Rousey. The organization, which has a 97 percent success rate in permanently breaking the homeless cycle and last year helped 11,000 people move into their own homes, provides employment, financial and legal aid to homeless in Los Angeles, and in May opened the state-of-the-art Irmas Family Campus shelter in North Hollywood. 

    A version of this story first appeared in the July 10 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.