News / USA

Actress Combines Art and Activism

Susan Sarandon's latest role is helping to feed the world's hungry

Actress Susan Sarandon is nominated as a new FAO Goodwill Ambassador at the World Food Day Ceremony in Rome, Italy. (October 2010)
Actress Susan Sarandon is nominated as a new FAO Goodwill Ambassador at the World Food Day Ceremony in Rome, Italy. (October 2010)

Multimedia

Audio
Nancy Greenleese

Actress Susan Sarandon never has shied away from a challenge. She's played a witch, nun, dying mother, drunken grandmother, a fugitive and even herself on the television show, "The Simpsons."

There's another role that she's taken on for decades and has no plans to give up: activist. The 64-year-old has said that at the root of both acting and activism is imagination. She's able to imagine herself in someone else's shoes - and wants to use her fame to help them.

Early years

Susan Sarandon - the activist - arrived on center stage before the actress. The former Susan Tomalin was studying drama at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. at the start of a turbulent era.

"You know, I just came of age at a time when, if you had any brain at all, the end of 60s, beginning of the 70s, they stopped, we stopped a war. You had sex drugs and rock and roll but you were also in the streets and it made a difference," she says. "There's no one else in my family that has this problem. I'm the only one."

Sarandon grew up the eldest of nine children, sleeping in bunk beds in a crowded but happy house in Edison, New Jersey. Her father was a big band singer before becoming an advertising executive, and was often belting out tunes. She was barred from singing due to a voice that her father deemed terrible. Yet in 1975, in one of her first big roles, Sarandon acted and sang as Janet, a good girl gone bad, in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

The movie 'Bull Durham' was a turning point in Susan Sarandon's career, catapulting her into Hollywood's major leagues.
The movie 'Bull Durham' was a turning point in Susan Sarandon's career, catapulting her into Hollywood's major leagues.

Gaining ground

Sarandon kept honing her craft, becoming an art-house favorite. Louis Malle's "Atlantic City" in 1980 earned her an Academy Award nomination. At that point, her marriage to her college sweetheart, Chris Sarandon, had ended but she kept his surname.

In the mid-80s, she had a daughter with an Italian director and was living in Rome. After reading a script that captivated her, she decided to fly to the U.S. at her own expense to fight for the role. Paul Zinder, associate professor of the American University of Rome, says that ended up being the movie that catapulted Sarandon into the major leagues.

"If you're to look at Sarandon's kind of coming out party, it was Bull Durham in 1988," says Zinder.

In the film, Sarandon plays an English teacher and baseball devotee who selects a minor-league player each year to seduce and educate about poetry, baseball and life.

"What was unique about Sarandon's role in that film is that she is, first of all, non-conventional looking for a Hollywood sex goddess, so to speak," says Zinder. "However, her confidence was quite clear to everyone who watched that film and really her comedic gifts as well related directly to her sexual confidence."

Hollywood directors noticed, putting her among the A-list actresses.

Functional fame

Sarandon realized her fame could serve another function.  

"After I became a celebrity, it just seemed to make so much sense to be able to use my celebrity to get press to go somewhere where they weren't going to cover the early days of AIDs, for instance, or sex trafficking."

Actress Susan Sarandon addresses the Plenary following her nomination as FAO Goodwill Ambassador by FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf at the World Food Day Ceremony in Rome, Italy. (October 2010)
Actress Susan Sarandon addresses the Plenary following her nomination as FAO Goodwill Ambassador by FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf at the World Food Day Ceremony in Rome, Italy. (October 2010)

Sarandon is a passionate advocate for human rights, social justice and programs dedicated to ending poverty and hunger.  A staunch liberal who opposes the death penalty, she saw her art and activism meet in the 1995 film "Dead Man Walking."  She won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a nun who counsels a death-row inmate.

This fall, she accepted a new challenge from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Association. Director-General Jacques Diouf invited her to help feed the world's one billion hungry people.

In her UN role, Sarandon has addressed diplomats and aid workers from every corner of the globe. Her knowledge of the issues rivals the experts. Yet she also brings humanity to her mission.

"As a mother, I can't imagine anything more upsetting, demoralizing, frustrating than not being able to feed your child."

Art and activism

The head of the US mission to the UN agencies in Rome - Ambassador Ertharin Cousin - is thrilled to have Sarandon on board, knowing she'll help put hunger in the headlines.

"The biggest challenge we have today is not the work that we're doing but maintaining the public will to continue that work. So having someone with her fame who is willing to lend that fame not just for her own benefit but for those hungry people around the world, we are delighted and very excited about this opportunity," says Cousin. "But what was so exciting for me was that underneath all of those characters that I've so enjoyed watching in the movies is a real person who cares."

Sarandon shows no signs of slowing down with her art or activism. She still gets acting work - probably due to her willingness to embrace her age and return to her roots in independent films and television. It's the 1960s rebel in her, always seeking meaning in her life and work.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs