From Hollywood to the global stage, celebrities have always held a special place in both our hearts and headlines. Whether they’re our favourite actors, musicians, or athletes, celebrities’ words and actions often echo far beyond the red carpets and silver screens. Yet, as stars use their platforms to weigh in on complex global issues, it’s essential to examine the impact and responsibility that comes with their celebrity status.
Take the current conflict between Hamas and Israel. After the devastating attacks by Hamas on Oct. 7, notable celebrities such as Natalie Portman, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Gal Gadot spoke out to condemn the acts of violence. While their actions may be noble, their engagement prompts questions about the extent of their understanding and the motivations behind their responses.
Celebrities often live in a privileged and isolated world, shielded from the everyday struggles and hardships faced by regular people. This disconnect ultimately hinders their ability to authentically empathize with the concerns of ordinary individuals, especially when speaking out on complex global issues.
Although celebrities have the platform to enact genuine social change, many see these crises as a marketing opportunity for their brand.
While 700 of Hollywood’s most influential figures recently signed an open letter condemning Hamas’s attack and voicing support for Israel, only a handful of celebrities have been willing to back their words with real financial support. Ryan Reynolds and his wife, Blake Lively, stand out with their $1 million donation to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Though a substantial figure, this donation represents just a fraction of Reynolds’ considerable net worth—raising questions about the true impact of celebrity outrage and the level of personal commitment.
It’s bad enough these celebrities use real danger as a talking point to further promote their platform, but what’s worse is their ignorance sets an example for how the rest of us act.
While some prominent figures speak out against the devastating consequences of the conflict in Palestine, including Mark Ruffalo and the Hadid sisters, others, direct their voices in support of Israel’s actions.
Kylie Jenner is a prime example. The reality star, who’s amassed almost 400 million followers on Instagram, re-shared a graphic from a pro-Israel nonprofit organization, Stand With Us. The star later removed the graphic from her Instagram stories after receiving mass amounts of backlash and criticism.
Jenner’s removal of the image sparked even more outrage, with people accusing her of oversimplifying and not comprehending the complicated situation. One individual even took to X, formerly known as Twitter, stating: “Imagine asking Kylie Jenner to tell us more about the political and territorial conflict between Israel and Palestine since 1948 and let’s see what she has to say.”
Though celebrities may be influential in our Instagram feeds, they make very little impression on real world leaders. For instance, the American government has assisted Israel with $130 billion over the last 75 years and are currently working on sending another care package of $14 billion to their Middle Eastern allies.
The United States isn’t worried about the growing death toll, they want to make sure their investment pays off. America, known for its desire to run other countries, can’t give up on Israel, and celebrity outrage won’t change the fact the US government seeks to merely help themselves.
Despite this, it’s important to acknowledge celebrities have both the platforms and resources to enact social change.
Basketball legend Stephen Curry and his wife, Ayesha, have established foundations aimed at addressing educational, food, and activity disparities among children in Oakland, California.
After working on a film set in war-torn Cambodia, Angelina Jolie joined the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), visiting refugee camps and donating millions of dollars in support of refugees worldwide.
These two examples are telling for a certain pool of Western celebrities who continue to look out for their communities even as they’ve grown more influential.
This became more obvious when George Floyd was wrongfully murdered by a police officer.
Celebrities, such as Michael B. Jordan, Megan Thee Stallion, and Fergie actively took part in demonstrations against police brutality and injustice. Others, however, merely posted a black square on their Instagram page as a part of #blackouttuesday. While they may have had good intentions, this action was nothing more than surface-level and lacked the necessary depth of engagement, action, or understanding required to drive meaningful change.
As Emilie Raymond, author of Stars for Freedom: Hollywood, Black Celebrities, and the Civil Rights Movement notes, “celebrities who are willing to work behind the scenes and do things that are constructive, that don’t bring them any fame or glory or money, those are the ones the activists really respect.”
If celebrities truly want to make an impact, they must be willing to invest more than their words, since raising awareness means nothing without meaningful action.
In a world where celebrity voices can sway millions, celebrities have a responsibility to promote social change, but their first objective should be to make sure they know what they’re talking about.
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