Caroline Connolly | Staff Writer
Famous teens are taking the world by storm. Young actors and actresses are taking the opportunity to use their fame for good by taking a stand on social issues such as body image, racism, gender inequality, LGBTQ prejudice, mental health and bullying. These young actors are not afraid to stand up for what they believe in and serve as role models for young people—even if some of them are in fact younger than college students. Some of the headlining names leading this “teenage celebrity activist” movement are Rowan Blanchard, Amandla Stenberg, Jaden Smith and Willow Smith. A few others to note are Kiernan Shipka, Ariel Winter, Zendaya and Maisie Williams. These teen stars are proving that “age is just a number” when it comes to advocating for social change in the world.
Amandla Stenberg, 17, identifies as a feminist. She is best known for her role as Rue in “The Hunger Games.” She is known for criticizing people for cultural appropriation and is not afraid attack would-be haters on social media.
“Racism is still alive and flourishing and even though we don’t see it in the same way we used to, it exists,” Stenberg said in an interview with online news outlet Mic last year.
Rowan Blanchard, star of “Girl Meets World” on the Disney Channel, is only 14 years old and very open about her struggle with depression.
In an Instagram post, Blanchard said, “Instead of ostracizing these teenage feelings (human feelings), I can learn to love the intensity of them and know that everything is momentary.”
Famous siblings Jaden and Willow Smith, 18 and 15 years young respectively, have both experimented with gender fluidity in their fashion choice.
In an interview with online news outlet Mic, Jaden said, “I just want to teach people how to been comfortable.”
In an interview with USA Today, Willow discussed who is being represented and how it shapes the lens through which we view and treat others—women in particular: “[The fashion industry is] one of the biggest ways that men control women,” Willow said. “And I see it all the time.” Both Stenberg and Willow Smith consistently speak out against women being over-sexualized in the world of fashion.
“I find it striking that so many young people nowadays are socially aware,” Cinematic arts adjunct professor Nathaniel Bell said. “What this trend is doing is normalizing certain topics that were once considered taboo. A decade ago, the average twelve-year-old just wasn’t conversant with gender and sexuality topics. But Facebook and Twitter and Instagram have made it desirable to be socially engaged.”
Senior cinematic arts major Amber Overholt said, “Actors and actresses have a pair of unique tools when it comes to expressing their perspectives on social issues: they have the media and, with that, everyone’s attention. When audiences, especially young people, see their favorite stars speaking out against issues like bullying, racism, and body shaming, all of a sudden these topic are open for discussion amongst the common people without being labeled as ‘taboo.’ An actor and actress’ public perspective towards these issues is a spark that starts a wildfire within the public. If they talk about the issue, then talk about the issue suddenly becomes popular.”
Can actors and actresses who speak about social issues serve as role models to those of us who enjoy following their acting careers?
“I think they definitely could,” Overholt said. “Many young people look up to their favorite actors and actresses. If their favorite actors/actresses were to speak out on issues that directly affected their viewers lives, then I would say the likelihood of the actors/actresses becoming role models is very strong.”
“Young folks are more apt to listen to famous people they admire than practically anyone else on the planet,” Bell said. “This is potentially disastrous, since celebrities are not always brimming with wisdom. On the other hand, I also see youth realigning culture in positive ways. It’s encouraging to witness people uniting across generational lines to ease suffering and promote life. Everyone has a voice now. Everyone has an opportunity to impact their culture.”
When celebrities choose to focus their well-publicized opinions on socially aware and responsible issues, their famous voices acquire an especially significant value.
Cinematic arts associate professor Dr. Warren Koch said, “There may be a place for radical protest, but if you’re wanting to have effective conversation about these issues, there’s got to be a better way to do that and what that is is kind of a tough call. There are ways to speak into it that are productive in a human and cultural honoring way. There is the question of how to use celebrity status effectively, and with endorsing social issues, you have to be careful and wise about how you do it.”
In the midst of excitement about teenage celebrities stepping up and taking the reigns on issues of social justice, it is somewhat telling that the majority of these activists are female. Perhaps as celebrity activism becomes even more pervasive, young male celebrities will begin assuming this role as well as celebrity teens can prove millennials initiate honest conversation about the difficulties in our society.