When Celebrities Take a Starring Role in Activism


Sara Saidel

Slider image by Sara Saidel.

Lights…Camera…Action! The minute a star walks out of the music studio, the movie set, or the sports arena, they become a normal person. Someone who has friends, families, hobbies, and interests. And just like all of us, celebrities have causes and social justice issues that they care about. When celebrities choose to use their influence on the media, their small steps go the extra mile in bringing these important issues into the spotlight.

Recently, celebrities have been advocating for issues they care about in varying ways. Whether through Twitter, music, or direct advocacy, they have the opportunity to reach large audiences due to their fame. While it might seem easier now for the stars to publicly advocate for a cause because of their constant social media presence, celebrities have always had a starring role in activism throughout history.

Even though in the 1950’s celebrities couldn’t tweet their latest political move or take a picture for Instagram, celebrity activists still found ways to make a difference. Harry Belafonte, an African American singer and actor, was also a social activist who had a major role in the Civil Rights Movement. Belafonte used any opportunity and tool he had to help. He used his fame to assemble rallies and fundraisers, his money to bail Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. out of a Birmingham jail, and his political skills to serve as an emissary between King and Robert  Kennedy, as well as between King and other civil rights groups. Even after the Civil Rights Movement, he had noteworthy political stamina. He helped organize the “We are the World” recording in 1985 for Africa, and since 1987, he has been a United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) Goodwill Ambassador. Even though Belafonte did not have social media at his disposal, he was able to make an impact.

Pictured in the middle is Harry Belafonte, known for being a major social activist. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Harry Belafonte is one example of powerful celebrity activists in history. While stars from the past made great strides in their work, they also serves as inspirations to celebrities activists today.

One way celebrities have raised awareness today is by bringing up their causes through a  political agenda. For example, Taylor Swift recently won a $1 lawsuit against ex-radio DJ David Mueller. At a meet-and-greet in 2013, Mueller groped Swift, which led to him being fired from his radio show. In 2015, he sued Swift and her mother for for interfering with his job and pressuring his company to fire him, but his case was dismissed. Even though the whole situation could have ended there, Swift said that she brought the trial back to serve as an example to other women who may resist publicly reliving similar outrageous and humiliating acts.” Swift’s choice to charge Mueller a mere $1 shows that she did not open this trial back up for money, but she did it to raise awareness about a topic that isn’t talked about enough.

Another way celebrities have advocated for their causes is by talking about them via their career. The rapper Logic recently released an album titled Everybody. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Logic said that his album discusses “mental health, domestic violence, mass shootings, drug abuse, racism, indigenous peoples, anxiety, depression, suicide, happiness, money, education, upper and middle and lower class, fear, hate, acceptance, fame, religion, childhood, individuality, peace, love and positivity.” At the MTV Video Music Awards on August 27th, Logic performed one of the songs on his album titled “1-800-273-8255” (which is the national suicide prevention hotline), and following the performance, he delivered a speech about equality and suicide prevention. In all of his music, Logic focuses on discussing meaningful topics, and it shows how much influence celebrities have over the media through their work.

It is a common wish to want to be a celebrity. Whether it’s for the money, the fame or the fancy cars, there is of course a materialistic appeal to it. However, the most meaningful part of fame isn’t the lifestyle. Rather, it is the ability to make a difference in the world and inspire others to do the same.