Celebrities With A Cause

From red carpet to congressional chambers, here’s how celebrities are playing an increasingly large role in politics

The Oscars last month marked the end of awards season, and it didn’t leave without its host of memorable speeches.

Many award winners veered into political territory, with Brad Pitt referencing the impeachment trial: “I think the gamesmanship Trump’s doing, I don’t think we should let that slide.” And no one can forget Best Actor and outspoken vegan Joaquin Phoenix’s passionate and affecting—or perhaps disaffecting, depending on who you ask—speech dismissing artificial insemination of cows among other unethical techniques used by the dairy and meat industry.

The Academy Awards have a history of awardees making political statements, most notably when Native American activist Sacheen Littlefeather refused Marlon Brando’s Best Actor award on his behalf in 1973.

Celebrity activism, however, isn’t limited to awards season—year-round, your favorite stars of the screen, athletes and Kardashian-adjacent influencers can be found pushing their own political agendas, much to the dismay of their fans on the opposite side of the political spectrum.

On their off-time, celebrities have also garnered attention for testifying before Congress—among this list are Ben Affleck, who advocated for America to provide aid to the Congo, and Stephen Colbert, who spoke on the struggles American farmers face—all while in character. Just last week, Kim Kardashian made headlines for meeting with President Trump in the White House to discuss criminal justice reform after successfully campaigning for him to commute the sentences of Alice Johnson and other former convicts. Was Kardashian a pawn in Trump’s game in a ploy to gain credibility and generate positive publicity? Well, that’s another story.

While their wide audience and fame have amplified many celebrities’ voices into the political arena, some have argued that the stars should stick to the script and stay mum about their political beliefs.

Now more than ever, public figures have the chance to open up to their audiences and show a slice of their life that is a little less manufactured, thanks to the ever-humbling social media. Apps like Instagram and Twitter give stars a broader platform—one where any given celebrity can articulate an eloquent message about why they support a cause in 280 characters or less. Adopting a signature cause dear to your heart is just part of being a public persona nowadays—think Taylor Swift and queer rights or Colin Kaepernick and police brutality.

With 2020 being an election year, plenty of celebrities have already announced their support for their candidate du jour, with entertainers such as Cher and Alyssa Milano endorsing Joe Biden. Meanwhile, actors Danny DeVito, Mark Ruffalo and Dick Van Dyke have become some of Bernie Sanders’ most vocal supporters with celebrity status.

The same factor that allows celebrities to use social media as a jumping board for activism—its pervasiveness and wide outreach, for one, is also a reason why people have criticized celebrities for waxing political on the timeline. Celebrities have influential platforms that can inform the most impressionable minds active online. That means public figures should tread carefully when it comes to making political statements, but not necessarily give them up altogether.

It is vital that celebrities understand the impact of their words, and it’s their responsibility to ensure that everything they post is truthful. We deserve that much. But if Aunt Karen can post about #AllLivesMatter and Tito Mike can post about #MedicareForAll, why can’t Joaquin Phoenix give a passionate, albeit offbeat, speech promoting veganism? Why censor celebrities for preaching their radical truth?