As Protests Rage, Hollywood Celebs Are Finally (Sort of) Getting It Right
Nothing seems less important right now than how celebrities are using their social media platforms. Still, those megaphones exist. Finally, they’ve figured out how to use them.
It’s ridiculous writing about celebrities right now. It’s ridiculous being a celebrity right now.
The nation is alight with people demanding justice, dignity, equality, and life for black people in our country. The attention, for once, is not on the rich and famous. Nor should it be.
But the fact remains that these are people with platforms, whether they deserve them or not and whether we want them to have them or not. For once, they seem to be using those platforms correctly.
It’s always complicated when it comes to these things. And the praise isn’t uniform. CNN anchor Don Lemon is among those who have called out A-listers, particularly high-profile black celebrities, for not doing as much as others to take action in the wake of George Floyd’s death and nationwide protests, mentioning Oprah Winfrey, Ellen DeGeneres, and Tyler Perry specifically in a broadcast.
“Get on television or do something and help these young people instead of sitting in your mansions and doing nothing. And have some moral courage and stop worrying about your reputation and your brand,” he said.
Ice-T echoed Lemon’s sentiment, tweeting on Sunday, “Alotta your so called favorite celebrities wont say a Fn word right now... They never have.. And they never will.. Pay Attention.”
It’s true that there are some voices that are noticeably silent. But what’s remarkable, at least in terms of what we’ve come to expect from celebrity culture, is how many people are speaking out, and saying the right things.
What these people are doing and saying right now is not going to change the system. They are not the foot soldiers and, whatever actions or messages they’re taking and sending with their social media accounts, they will never be the foot soldiers.
But when we log onto our Twitters, our Instagrams, and our Facebooks, because of how we’ve been trained to consume information on these platforms, theirs are the posts we see. Whether or not it is our intent, theirs are the first words we read.
Finally, they’re not mincing them. They are foregoing the both-sidesism and controversy-free words so thoroughly vetted by teams and agents and publicists that they’re entirely void of actual meaning. (Well, most are.)
They’re spreading relevant information. They are correct lies from politicians. They’re demanding things of people in power in ways that don’t feel performative. They are pointing their followers to places to donate, to petitions to sign, to people to call, and to the words and actions of people who actually do matter right now.
At a time when celebrity couldn’t be less important, they seem to be actually recognizing that and are finding ways to be of service with the megaphones they’ve been given. It stands in stark contrast to how embarrassing they were with all the coronavirus nonsense, the grotesque orgy of self-congratulation.
George Clooney penned an op-ed for The Daily Beast titled “America’s Greatest Pandemic Is Anti-Black Racism.” “There is little doubt that George Floyd was murdered,” he wrote. “This is our pandemic. It infects all of us, and in 400 years we’ve yet to find a vaccine.”
Jay-Z called Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, amplifying demands from protesters to prosecute all of the officers involved in George Floyd’s death, calling it a “first step.” In a statement, he said, “I prevail on every politician, prosecutor, and officer in the country to have the courage to do what is right. Have the courage to look at us as humans, dads, brothers, sisters, and mothers in pain. And look at yourselves.”
Taylor Swift made headlines for her critique of Donald Trump’s “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” tweet, posting, “After stoking the fires of white supremacy and racism your entire presidency, you have the nerve to feign moral superiority before threatening violence? ‘When the looting starts the shooting starts’??? We will vote you out in November. @realdonaldtrump.”
Beyoncé posted an Instagram video in which she said, “We need justice for George Floyd. We all witnessed his murder in broad daylight. We’re broken and we’re disgusted. We cannot normalize this pain.” She posted a link to petitions demanding that more charges be brought for his death.
Lady Gaga posted a short essay confronting her white privilege and urging people to confront their own.
Lizzo went on Instagram Live to relay information on what was happening in Minneapolis from people actually on the ground there. “What they just told me is at this point all the violence, the majority of the violence that’s happening in that city is coming from the KKK and the heavily militarized police,” she said. “There are people coming from the south, there are white supremacist terrorist groups coming from the south, patrolling the streets, shooting people.”
Billie Eilish responded to Trump’s “thugs” tweet by posting on her Instagram that he should “eat a huge fucking dick and choke on it.” On Saturday, she called out people posting about All Lives Matter. “If I hear one more white person say ‘All Lives Matter’ one more fucking time I’m gonna lose my fucking mind. Will you shut the fuck up? No one is saying your life doesn’t matter. No one is saying your life is not hard. No one is saying literally anything at all about you...... All you mfs do is find a way to make everything about yourself. This is not about you. Stop making everything about you. You are not in need. You are not in danger.”
Chrissy Teigen doubled her donation to bail out protesters after a person commented on her original post that she was supporting “rioters and criminals.”
Cardi B tweeted, “It’s not only about getting the 4 cops arrested that were involve in George Floyd death.Its about the government and this country acknowledging police brutality tours blacks and enforcing laws tours police brutality and corruption.”
Viola Davis seemingly called out MAGA supporters specifically in her post: “This is what it means to be Black in America. Tried. Convicted. Killed for being Black. We are dictated by hundreds of years of policies that have restricted our very existence and still have to continue to face modern day lynchings. Here’s the thing......America will never be great until we can figure out a way for it to work for EVERYBODY!!!”
LL Cool J wrote and delivered a rap about racism and Floyd’s murder: “For 400 years you had your knees on our necks / A garden of evil with no seeds of respect / In America's mirror all she sees is regret / Instead of letting blood live they begging for blood let.”
Ariana Grande shared voting information and advocated for people to take legislative action and called out the media for not covering peaceful protesting. Tinashe also posted from peaceful protests in Los Angeles, saying, “THE MEDIA DON’T WANT YOU TO SEE THE PEACEFUL PROTESTS.”
Grande and Tinashe joined Nick Cannon, Halsey, Emily Ratajkowski, Tessa Thompson, Machine Gun Kelly, Real Housewife Porsha Williams, and Insecure actor Kendrick Sampson, who was hit by rubber bullets, out protesting and using their social media feeds to spread information about how police were treating crowds gathered. Jamie Foxx, Camilla Cabello, Tory Lanez, Anna Kendrick, and J. Cole all attended protests over the weekend.
John Cusack tweeted a video of protests in Chicago, saying police “came at me with batons.”
This is not to clap for the celebrities doing the bare minimum of speaking out. It is an examination of how the biggest platforms on the internet are being used in this critical time. It is a time that demands people confront their privilege. There is no one with more privilege than these celebrities, so there is something to consider here.
If they retain even a modicum of normality in their gilded cages, then right now celebrities do have at least some things in common with us. They feel shame about what we are. They are scared. They are angry. If we wonder what we could do, what impact we could make, how we would express our thoughts about any of this if only we had a platform...I would imagine they do as well. The difference is they do have the platform.
Not everyone got it right. Ellen DeGeneres caused a social-media eye-roll with the garbled and toothless collection of platitudes she tweeted out over the weekend. Killer Mike’s viral speech urging protesters to dial back the severity of their demonstrations was criticized in some circles. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote an essay for The Atlantic, which was endorsed by son-in-law Chris Pratt on Twitter, about how great America still is that couched and qualified so many statements that it could hardly be viewed as any kind of marching orders.
The full picture isn’t a perfect one. But it reflects, in some way, the picture that is coming into focus across the country.
People waking up to what they can do, however they can do it, with the power they have, realizing that it’s no longer justified to stay quiet because you are afraid of what poking the bear might make those close to you think about you. Part of that picture are the people who are still keeping silent when they shouldn’t, or still expressing opinions inelegantly. It’s just remarkable to see such a shift in how celebrities, with the megaphones and influence they have, are dealing with this.
There is of course the inevitable ‘who cares’ of it all. But silence right now is complicity. Silence when you have power—a soapbox, an Instagram account...anything—is moral negligence. It’s sad that it’s surprising that celebrities are using that power correctly. But at least they are.
We will never really land on an answer of what we want from these people in times like these, the awkward situation of having granted them the loudest microphones that exist and not really understanding exactly what it is we want or need to hear.
Different versions of the same phrase have been circulating in recent days, like this one written by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the Los Angeles Times: “Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.”
Everyone needs to shine that light, but the truth is that some people have been given brighter, stronger lights. And they’ve finally figured out how to turn them on.