Written and illustrated by Shazmeen Khalid
2019 has been an exceptionally big year for global politics. From Brexit and Boris, to Sudanese revolution and the oppression of occupied Kashmir, there have been masses of geo-politically charged events which have made headline news across the continents.
As with every headlining crisis or social injustice, we, the public, often expect recognition – or even just the slightest acknowledgement – of these events from big names we so meticulously follow.
Whether it’s a post on their Instagram story or a minute to address the current affair on a live show, most people respect and admire celebrities who take the opportunity to use their platforms to voice injustices.
Seeing celebrities tear up, write a paragraph or tribute their talents to a cause touches people, it affirms to many of us that actors and artists have a shared sense of compassion – they’re human, not just icons behind an artificial screen.
However, the same sentiment can also indicate irresponsibility, particularly when the sharing and supporting is on the side of the oppressor.
Jai Hind #IndianArmedForces
In February this year, when tensions hit a peak between Pakistan and India, Indian actress and ambassador Priyanka Chopra decided to tweet her support for the Indian Armed Forces just hours after talks of an escalation to war by the Indian PM.
What’s the big deal, you might wonder, she is Indian after all? While the tweet gained likes and shares, thousands decided to confront Priyanka on her words and how they were inciting dangerous nationalist sentiments at a time when tensions between Pakistan and India were on the cusp of a new war.
Die-hard Chopra fans rushed to justify her tweet, stating that Priyanka showed support to her national roots and that her parents have a connection to the Indian military.
However, surely the last thing any Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations should ever do is make nationalistic statements? Particularly about a country which, in less than 6 months, has been at the root of political oppression in occupied Kashmir and on the brink of initiating war.
The tweet and responses led to petitions demanding for the actress to be revoked from her role as the UN Goodwill Ambassador, as her actions signposted a celebration of the attempts to escalate war on Pakistan. The problematic nature of these public, nationalist-aligned statements is that they demonstrate how easily celebrities can become icons for peace without doing anything substantial to encourage it, as well as how influential figures need to hold accountability for public statements.
When Liu Yifei, the actress to star in the upcoming Mulan film, revealed her support for the Hong Kong police, Disney fans everywhere called for a boycott.
Yifei posted on China’s equivalent of Twitter, Weibo, to her 65.6 million followers: ‘I support the [Hong Kong] police. You can hit me now,’ in response to the recent protests against the extradition bill proposed for Hong Kong.
Yifei’s statement refers to the police brutality protesters have been subjected to, including tear gas. The Chinese actress has faced huge backlash, many criticising her and the producers for weaponising Mulan as Chinese propaganda against Hong Kong, and for encouraging police brutality.
How dangerous are these stances to the world’s perception of geo-politics?
Judging by the responses to Priyanka Chopra and Liu Yifei, it’s evident how the behaviour of prominent figures can be detrimental to peace by encouraging national hostility and pushing a sense of entitlement.
As a Goodwill ambassador for the UN, Chopra should be impartial to national alignments and recognise when peace is being disrupted. In the same sense, Yifei’s stardom should amount a level of respectful discourse surrounding political protest. For individuals who are inclined to nationalistic support, celebrity endorsment can be a quick-fire way to legitimise their views.
The strong reactions these women received affirms the broader impact of celebrity stances, because a few of their words often, if not always, overshadow the years of hard work, protesting and negotiation done by those fighting against the suppression.
The Celebrity Effect
Although the impact of celebrity statements can be dangerous to the world’s perception of geo-politics, there have been instances where certain figures have utilised their platforms to facilitate spaces of awareness and condemnation of political injustices.
Comedian Hassan Minhaj used his stage to express his solidarity with Kashmir on Indian Independence Day.
Minhaj said: “India is celebrating 72 years of independence from British rule…when I think about independence and autonomy, I can’t help but think about the people of Kashmir…”.
He went on to describe the current humanitarian crisis in Kashmir, which he referred to as an ‘erosion of autonomy.’
He captured the attention of his audience – inaccessible to others – to demonstrate how a celebrity voice can be equipped as a means of power for people oppressed and subjugated by political turmoil.
If celebrities want to politicise themselves, they should be looking to some of the speeches made by passionate MPs in the House of Commons.
Labour MP Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi voiced his thoughts against the PM’s ‘derogatory and divisive’ remarks towards Muslim women in the House of Commons. He demanded Boris Johnson to take accountability for his comments and apologise.
MPs often go viral after these speeches, but they rarely reach across the borders of their country like celebrities do and can.
If intended as such, the effect of celebrity statements can and do occasionally make a difference for good.
But these platforms which can be used to push agendas can also be uesd to cause controversy. We therefore ought to be cautious of the rhetoric used by celebrities when discussing politics
Evidently, there is a fine line between daring and dangerous.