Cynthia Arroyo | Staff Writer
Celebrities are generally in front of the camera, filming movies and shows for the public’s interest, yet in the past 10 years, the tides have changed. Technological advancement and growing social awareness has the men and women on television, Netflix Originals and movie theatre screens behind podiums, microphone in-hand, speaking about issues of social concern.
Essentially, celebrities have made the move from movie sets to the front lines of protests. With social media providing an easily accessible audience of fans looking for another tweet or post, it is no wonder that stars have taken to expressing their beliefs so frequently.
Meryl Streep summed up this collective social responsibility among celebrities at this year’s Golden Globes with her call for everyone to join her in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) because, as she said, “…we’re gonna need them going forward, and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.” That night the CPJ received 140 times their usual Sunday donations. It seems as though celebrity empowerment is a movement that is just beginning to scratch the topmost layer of social change.
In 2014 Emma Watson, celebrity turned United Nations Ambassador, launched “HeForShe,” a campaign aimed at advancing gender equality through solidarity with boys and men. She delivered a powerful speech to UN Women that swept across international social media accounts. She has been spotted at numerous events for gender equality recently, including the Women’s March on Washington this January.
Other well known stars including Ellen Degeneres, Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus have been fierce activists for women’s and LGBTQ rights. Degeneres received the Medal of Freedom Award from former President Barack Obama in November of 2016.
In 2016 singer/songwriter John Legend published an open letter to former President Obama regarding the mass incarceration of nonviolent offenders and got in a feud with Donald Trump Jr. on Twitter. Legend also recently marched at the Park City Women’s March in Utah.
Now, voicing social concern isn’t always done as smoothly as Legend or Watson. In a rather humorous turn of events, Justin Timberlake’s attempt at encouraging others to exercise their civil duties nearly got him in trouble. Timberlake posted a photo in the voting booth on Tennessee’s general election day to encourage others to vote. Instead of creating the civil action he had hoped to inspire, his photo caused a stir about the legality of photographing a ballot.
Environmental issues such as climate change and the hazardous effects of oil drilling have also made the headlines in 2016. Shailene Woodley and 26 other protesters were arrested in October of last year for their attempt to block the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Standing Rock reservation. Other celebrities, including Ezra Miller and Ben Affleck, posted videos voicing their concern for water rights and the Standing Rock Tribe. During Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2016 Oscars acceptance speech for his role in “The Revenant,” he recognized climate change and honored Native Americans saying, “We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters or the big corporations, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people who will be most affected by this…”
The sheer number of entertainment figures and the extent of their involvement in social and environmental issues is unprecedented in history; the list is perpetual and growing with each new post. One thing is certain: the actions of socially-conscious celebrities are creating a quantifiable difference. They are empowering others to make social justice their second day-job.