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Stars raise millions at Cannes edition of AIDS charity gala

ANTIBES, France (AP) — After a shaky start and a wave of negative press, the AIDS relief charity amfAR attempted Thursday to focus the spotlight on its work instead of the stain left by one of its biggest benefactors Harvey Weinstein.

Sharon Stone stepped down as co-chair of this year’s gala and Pharrell Williams dropped out of performing at the event after Weinstein was accused of sexual misconduct last year by dozens of women. The disgraced movie mogul regularly attended the gala, often bringing in high profile guests and encouraging the bidding on the annual auction.

Attendees of the 25th Cannes black tie gala at the famous Hotel Du Cap in Antibes attempted to look past Weinstein and keep the focus on amfAR’s global work.

“This organization is far bigger than any scandal so I don’t think anybody is worried about that tonight,” singer Jason Derulo said. “Everyone is here to continue to have an impact on the world. We just want to get rid of this disease that we’ve been dealing with for so long.”

“It’s a brand new day now and this terrible disease in our society we have to find a cure for it,” actor Pierce Brosnan said. “So I think justice has been taken care of in regards to the scandal, past, done, dusted, move on.”

Some said they could faintly remember the Weinstein scandal, which began in October.

“It’s a distant memory in the past,” Michelle Rodriguez said of Weinstein. “I think it’s so distant that I barely remember it.”

She said anyone who stopped supporting the group because of its past association with Weinstein was missing the opportunity to help others. “Come on, bigger fish to fry, we’re trying to cure AIDS here,” she said.

Weinstein was fired from his company and faces criminal investigations in several cities after dozens of women accused him various degrees of sexual harassment and abuse. He has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.

This year’s event featured a celebrity auction and performances by Grace Jones, Sting and Shaggy and Ellie Goulding.

The amfAR gala attracts top stars each year in the area for the nearby Cannes Film Festival, where Weinstein was also a mainstay. Last year’s event raised more than 17.8 million euros ($20 million) to combat the disease globally.

This year’s auction prizes which included works of art, luxury holidays, super cars and yachts saw a fashion collection of 30 designer outfits raise 1.6 million euros ($1.9 million), a Pierce Brosnan original painting go for 1.2 million euros ($1.42 million) and a collection of Liz Taylor furs fetch 425,000 euros ($519,601).

Since 1985, amfAR has invested more than 438 million euros ($517 million), to support AIDS research. The Cannes event has raised over 178 million euros ($210 million) to date.

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