Celebrity activism is not really considered serious. I mean, DiCaprio’s whole environmentalist gig while travelling in private jets is a bit too much. That being said, time and again, celebrities from different walks of life, have come together, risked their lives and careers for things they believe in.
1. Nina Simone
This African American musician was also a civil rights activist. With her unique voice and powerful music, she would often talk about the injustice and discrimination that black people had to face in the United States. And more often than not, radio stations, at the time, would simply refuse to have her on or play her songs.
2. Harry Belafonte
Another musician, Belafonte had his boyish charm and powerful voice do the work for him. But he was also a civil rights activist and a friend of Martin Luther King Jr. Due to this, the white American media ostracised him, labelled him a communist during the age of the McCarthism Witch Hunt.
3. Colin Kaepernick
The former NFL quarterback is famous for taking a knee during the national anthem to protest against police brutality and the judicial murders of people of colour. As a result of this, not only was he demonised by ‘patriots’, who believed that he had insulted the American troops, but Kaepernick also lost his spot in the team and has been a free agent ever since.
4. Sir Don Bradman
During his years as a cricket administrator, Sir Don Bradman met with South African President, John Vorster during the height of apartheid. Vorster was of the opinion that black people or people of colour were inferior and thus would be a curse on the game of cricket. Bradman then reportedly asked him if he knew who Sir Gary Sobers was. He came back to Australia and said ‘We will not play them until they choose a team on a non-racist basis’. Following this he cancelled Australia’s tour of South Africa.
5. Muhammed Ali
The greatest boxer of all time was also one of the fiercest defenders of human rights on the planet. When his name was drafted during the illegal war in Vietnam, Ali promptly refused to go. This not only cost him heavyweight title belt but the man also had to spend his prime years in jail. He had very famously said:
My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America… And shoot them for what? They never called me n*****, they never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father…Shoot them for what? How can I shoot them poor people? Just take me to jail.
6. Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman
During the medal ceremony in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, two African American athletes, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, each raised a black-gloved fist during the national anthem. They were also wearing black socks at the time to raise awareness about black poverty. The duo also had other symbols on them protesting the lynchings and murders of black people in America.
Australian Peter Norman, who had been a staunch critic of the White Australia Policy, also participated in the protest. The three would never participate in the Olympics again and would be ostracised by their countries’ media for years to come.
7. Shabana Azmi
Following the murder of the communist playwright and director Safdar Hashmi, actor Shabana Azmi started protesting against the INC government. Addressing the crowd at the 12th International Film Festival of India in 1989, Azmi said:
We filmmakers and film lovers wish to register out protest against the system that, on one hand, claims to promote creativity and on the other connive in the murder of a cultural activist.
In January 1989, exactly a week after #SafdarHashmi’s death, @AzmiShabana read out a note in protest of Comrade Hashmi’s killing from the stage of the International Film Festival of India in New Delhi. #Sahmat #Janam pic.twitter.com/mWjutDU1h6— Md Salim (@salimdotcomrade) January 1, 2020
8. John Boyega
Following the brutal murder of George Floyd at the hands of police officers, many celebrities stage rose in support of protests against police brutality. One of these celebrities was Star Wars actor John Boyega. Boyega, who was once advertised as a key selling point in the Star Wars franchise, had been gradually losing screen time as the series progressed. Many believed internalised racism was a cause of it. The actor was on the streets on the day of the protests and addressed the crowd:
We have always been important. We have always meant something. We have always succeeded regardless. And now is the time. I ain’t waiting…We are a physical representation of our support for George Floyd. We are a physical representation of our support for Sandra Bland. We are a physical representation of our support for Trayvon Martin. We are a physical representation of our support for Stephen Lawrence… I don’t know if I’m going to have a career after this, but fuck that.
9. Aretha Franklin
Franklin was known as the Queen of Soul. In fact, when she passed away, people referred to her as the best America ever had. However, when she was alive, she was a huge supporter of Angela Davis. Davis was and still is quite vocal about black rights, human rights, which at that time was frowned upon in the USA. So Franklin’s white audience wasn’t too please about her association with someone like Davis.
10. Paul Newman
Newman was a famous Hollywood actor and director with awards like the Oscars and BAFTAs associated with his name. He was also one of the more consistent activists during the civil rights movement in the USA. He even marched with Martin Luther King in 1963, along with his colleagues that involved celebrities of the stature of Marlon Brando and Bob Dylan.
Looks like, the lack of spine is a recent issue amongst celebrities.