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Celebrity Activism

Sep. 7, 2017
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What does it mean to attend a charity event in a $10,000 gown? Whether it is hypocritical, ironic, or just inconsiderate, the rise of the celebrity activist has led to a rash of human criticism that is not completely fair. With idols such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Emma Watson, or Lady Gaga committing various efforts to reputable social and environmental causes, critics question the integrity of celebrity contributions to these efforts.

“It’s just positive publicity! They don’t do enough! They intentionally avoid controversial issues!”

Yes. However, are there solutions to these problems? Are they even problems or just rhetorical comments? Expectations for integrity should be higher for individuals that influence millions; however, a hypocritical mindset is unacceptable. Self-motivated charity is not only found in celebrities. Whether we volunteer just to improve resumes or donate goods to improve tax returns, the general population also needs to ask themselves if self-motivated charity degrades the causes they are supporting. Ultimately, whether it’s my neighbor or Matt Damon, isn’t raising even one more dollar towards a worthy cause a success? While self-motivated acts are selfish, that is not a reason to completely condemn what they can accomplish. As long as the various causes and foundations are commendable and honest, celebrity support and calls to action are not a waste. The celebrity activist has a voice that millions are willing to listen to. If their voice helps a worthy cause in the slightest, they are making a positive difference.

Yes, not all mainstream celebrities actually “walk the walk” with activism. However, in recent years, that seems to be changing. Of course, the term celebrity has undergone radical change in the age of the internet. Movie stars who have been in the business for decades no longer hold the single spotlight of media attention. With the constant expectations that the internet and social media provide to everyone, the only threat current celebrity activists must avoid is slacktivism. This term refers to “actions that are performed on the internet to support a cause but which involve little time or involvement.” This threat might encapsulate some celebrities, but there’s a new wave of celebrities who actively fight for the underrepresented in recent protests and marches and are looking past their cell phone screens. Now, young and ambitious celebrities, especially women and people of color, have the chance to inspire and connect to populations that previously had no representation.

Instead of sugar-coating social issues, this new wave of celebrity activists has no problems with honesty and straightforward change. For example, while Brie Larson’s decision to take a “radical” stance against sexual harassment by not applauding for Casey Affleck raised some brows, Larson responded in an interview with Hello Giggles: “I’d put it all on the line and be an activist for the rest of my life because it doesn’t feel right for me to be quiet.” With this stance, Larson is also telling her audience they should not be quiet either. Since successful women in the celebrity spotlight face their own unequal battles, when they support fellow women, the conversation broadens to various unjust realities. When we see famous women like Larson standing up in the face of injustice (such as by attending the Women's March), it reminds every woman that they are not alone in the battle for female success. Outspoken female celebrity activists help create a sense of unity in a culture that tries to force women against one another.

In addition to the rise of feminist activism in recent years, celebrities have also given their two cents on racial tension in America. Because of minority underrepresentation in the media, it is practically expected for every Black, Hispanic, Asian, or Middle Eastern celebrity to be the voice of their race. Unfortunately, this is an unfair expectation that is only assumed onto people of color. Somehow, when a person of color commits a crime or injustice, their whole community must take a portion of the blame. Diverse celebrity activists are important because the concerns of their communities have been silent for so long. For too long, racial tension had been swept under the rug and no major voices were being heard. However, it is hard to ignore people like Beyonce or Zendaya: once celebrities show support for racial justice, the voices of millions can no longer be ignored. Plus, these celebrities who represent people of color provide a sense of power and influence to their respective communities. For example, whenever I watch Yara Shahidi continue to thrive with her half-Iranian background, I feel a sense of pride. I can imagine other minorities feel the same way when they see someone from their culture succeed.

Within today’s interpersonal world, it is harder than ever for the world to ignore social activism. No longer just “radical hippies” strolling the streets, activists are on every person’s timeline, feed, and home page. Celebrity involvement is certainly a big part of obtaining support, but every small stroke makes a wave of a difference.

Illustration by Areeba Siddique.

Adolescent is psyched to be able to bring this and other articles from the pages of Crybaby Zine to our readers. This piece was originally written for their Fame Issue—if you like it, check out their store to buy this or other issues!