BARCELONA, Spain — Beneath the menacing veneer of the most famous movie villains are dedicated humanitarians, doing their bit in the fight to end poverty. Here are five movie villains turned humanitarian heroes.
1. Ralph Fiennes
Among the movie villains is Ralph Fiennes, aka Voldemort from the Harry Potter movie franchise, who cuts a dark figure on screen. Off-screen, however, he has a more benevolent side, supporting nonprofits such as the Small Steps Project, an NGO that provides aid to families living and surviving on landfill sites. In fact, he has provided shoes to the organization in order to raise funds to support its work. An estimated 15 million people live on landfill sites worldwide, including families with young children, scavenging for food and what little they can find to sell.
Often lacking shoes and protective gloves, cuts and abrasions to the feet and hands are commonplace, causing infections and diseases such as malaria and cholera. Wounds are also at risk of turning gangrenous.
Small Steps Project provides landfill-site inhabitants with shoes, emergency aid and hygiene kits. In an attempt to reduce the number of children working on the sites, it also provides them with access to education away from the perilous surroundings of the heap.
One such site is the Seyange Dump site in Masaka, Uganda, where Small Steps Project began an intervention in 2019. It provided around 1,000 people with shoes and aid and built a Children’s Support Center where children who previously worked on the rubbish tip received an education. The center was also included WASH facilities, such as showers and toilets.
As of 2023, Small Steps Project has provided shoes and other forms of aid to 20,000 children in eight different countries, giving them the support they need to take small steps away from the rubbish heap and into a better life.
2. Tom Hiddleston
Another of the movie villains in this list is Tom Hiddleston. Famed for playing Loki, the deceptive God of Mischief in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Tom Hiddleston has been a UNICEF U.K. ambassador since 2013.
This year, he took part in Soccer Aid for UNICEF 2023, an annual star-studded football match broadcast live from the 74,000 capacity Old Trafford stadium in Manchester.
Playing alongside him were world-record-holding sprinter, Usain Bolt and Manchester United forward and fellow humanitarian, Marcus Rashford.
The game raised more than £14.6 million for children across the world suffering from malnutrition and natural disasters and to provide vaccines against diseases such as Ebola. Soccer Aid has gone from strength to strength since its first game in 2006, raising more than £90 million for UNICEF.
The crowd received a treat at half-time, when Hiddleston made a moving speech, encouraging viewers to donate and “show our combined support for children around the world.”
An effective fundraiser, the actor has also encouraged his legions of fans to donate a total of £100,000 to UNICEF U.K, since 2012. Adopting the moniker Hiddlestoners Have Heart, donations from the star’s admirers have snowballed over the last decade and show no sign of stopping.
3. Benedict Cumberbatch
While many will be familiar with Smaug, the villainous gold-hoarding dragon from the Hobbit movie trilogy, fewer will be aware that Benedict Cumberbatch voices the character (who also plays Dr Strange and Sherlock Holmes).
A keen humanitarian, Cumberbatch is a long-time partner of GEANCO, an incredible nonprofit which carries out complex surgical missions to provide maternal health care to mothers in Nigeria.
GEANCO provides mothers and children with health care, paying for around 400 mothers per month to receive treatment for anemia as well as prenatal care. So far, it has screened upwards of 35,000 mothers and children for anemia.
The charity also offers funding and materials for schools and has recently completed the construction of a library for the Brightland Academy in Enugu, Nigeria.
In partnership with the Archwell Foundation, a charity that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle run, GEANCO will also provide 2,500 young Nigerian girls with classes aimed at educating them about menstrual health.
4. Javier Bardem
Fans of James Bond will know Javier Bardem from “Skyfall,” in which he played the role of the vengeful villain, Raoul Silva. He also starred in “No Country for Old Men.”
In 2022, Bardem partnered with Eyes of the World, an NGO which aims to increase access to eye health care for people in poverty. In a bid to raise awareness of this underreported issue, Bardem had an extreme close up photo taken of his iris. The image was then auctioned off for more than €9,000 in support of Eyes of the World.
According to the nonprofit, 1.1 billion people are currently suffering from vision loss, 90% of whom live in developing countries. The majority of these instances are preventable or treatable conditions such as cataracts or minor eye infections. In addition, vision loss prevents people from working and earning a living, exacerbating their economic plight.
Eyes of the World have been working in developing countries for over 20 years, conducting eye exams, eye operations and providing technical equipment to local health care providers. On a policy level, it encourages governments to implement improved eye health care policies, and to incorporate eye care into the general health care framework.
It has projects in Mozambique, The Sahara, Mali and Bolivia. In 2022 alone, it assisted 136,015 people and carried out 3,530 surgeries. It trained 1,501 professionals and reached 1,024,000 people in an attempt to raise awareness through media campaigns.
5. Forest Whitaker
Best-known for his portrayal of Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin, in the movie “The Last King of Scotland,” Forest Whitaker is passionate about humanitarian work.
A UNESCO goodwill ambassador for over a decade, he received the 2022 International Peace Honors Prize for his tireless dedication to charitable causes.
Whitaker’s work has included setting up the Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI) that works to promote peace and social development in regions beset by conflict.
In 2016, the actor supported Children, Not Soldiers, a campaign aimed at building a consensus among world leaders against the use of children in conflicts. The campaign, which the UN and UNICEF spearheaded, was aimed at eight countries with a high prevalence of child soldiers.
Children, Not Soldiers lobbied governments in these countries to implement a five-step action plan:
- Issue military command orders prohibiting the recruitment and use of children.
- Release all children identified in the ranks of security forces.
- Ensure children’s reintegration into civilian life.
- Criminalize the recruitment and use of children.
- Integrate age-verification mechanisms in recruitment procedures.
The program saw 1,755 children released from armed groups in Sudan and 800 released in Myanmar.
Sudan also showed progress by implementing aspects of the action plan. Despite this, child soldiers remain a global problem.
Whitaker also received the 2022 Honorary Palme D’or at the Cannes Film Festival, which screened his new film, “For the Sake of Peace.” Set in South Sudan, it draws attention to a conflict which has killed 383,000 people between 2011 and 2018.
Despite the glamorous lifestyle of stars who have played movie villains, some are choosing to use their platform to raise awareness of people in need and to advocate for policies that work to eradicate some of the harshest consequences of poverty.
– Marcos Caro