From Meryl Streep's speech at the Golden Globes to the countless stars who donned pink p*ssyhats while marching in Washington (and Los Angeles and New York and Sundance), celebrities aren't taking 2017's political events sitting down. With a polarizing president in office, stars are speaking out about topics ranging from reproductive rights to immigration reform to LGBTQ issues. But, how much do their actions actually matter? In taking a closer look at celebrity activism, I realized famous people raising their voices really does create a quantifiable impact. Whether celebs are raising funds or awareness, they're sparking change however they can. And despite those who dismiss celeb activism as useless, there's proof that it's actually working.
While celebrities tend to be taken less seriously as activists, many use their platform for good — harnessing their fan bases to speak out about social justice, whether wearing a Planned Parenthood hat or changing their Instagram bio to support the American Civil Liberties Union (ahem, Blake Lively). In speaking out about causes they care about, these celebs are able to reach an audience of millions and foster a conversation. I'm not saying stars know better than the average person; they just have a larger reach than, say, your college history professor.
In fact, some people who make it their life's work to support political causes see celebrities as integral to the awareness and fundraising process. In a statement to Bustle, Michele Moore, Chief Communications Officer for the ACLU, said,
Of course, celebrities are not the end-all-be-all in activism, but they do play a worthwhile role. Don't mistake them for mindless Hollywood robots. Especially in 2017's political climate, their voices are incredibly important — turning the limelight into a necessary spotlight when it comes to supporting social justice and advocating for change.
Stars Speaking Out
Education is a key way to open people's minds. When stars transform their award show speeches into political statements, they're reaching a wider audience than their usual fans. Case in point? According to data from Twitter, Streep's 2017 Golden Globes speech was the most tweeted moment of the entire night, and 20 million people watched the telecast. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it's a 1.5 million increase from last year's ceremony. Since that night, Streep's speech has been watched more than 1.83 million times on YouTube. Her message, "When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose," surely got people talking. And it shows how passionate Streep truly is that she used her lifetime achievement award to advocate against political policies that appear to target marginalized groups in the U.S., and the hatred and bullying that seem to be rising to the surface in 2017.
Meanwhile, Laverne Cox used the 2017 Grammys to support Gavin Grimm, a transgender teen and client of the ACLU, who will be going to the Supreme Court in March to fight for trans rights. Admittedly, I hadn't heard of Grimm until Cox's #StandWithGavin shoutout, and I imagine I'm not the only one who learned something in the Grammys audience of 26 million people. Furthering that message, Cox's Instagram video with Grimm has been viewed more than 144,000 times since she posted it on Feb. 19.
Remember when Patricia Arquette spoke out about the wage gap at the 2015 Oscars? It became the fourth biggest moment of the night on Twitter, when Arquette spoke to an audience of 36.6 million viewers. Plus, Arquette was the second most mentioned star that night, according to data from the social network. This also spurred others to speak out — most notably, Jennifer Lawrence in an a Lenny Letter essay later that year.
Sure, you could argue that people tweeting about or watching speeches on YouTube may not signify actual change, but those stats do mean the messages are resonating and people are soaking them in. Denying the impact of these mediums is frankly, pretty futile.
Celebs Putting Their Money Where Their Mouths Are
A message from me + my lawyer about Syrian refugees... pic.twitter.com/SF7ESzOZEa— Riz Ahmed (@rizmc) January 31, 2017
Actor-slash-rapper Riz Ahmed teamed up with his Night Of co-star John Turturro to film the video above, promoting Ahmed's Crowdrise campaign in support of Syrian refugees. To date, Ahmed has raised more than $173,000 for the Karam Foundation, which according to the page is "a widely respected grassroot organization distributing smart aid to address families' immediate needs and delivering education programmes for vulnerable refugee youth."
Meanwhile, Kal Penn also used Crowdrise to advocate for refugees. Following a racist remark directed at the actor, he fought back with activism. To quote the ever-wise Beyoncé, "The best revenge is your paper." And in this case, that paper is going to a more than worthwhile cause.
Penn raised more than $860,000 as of this article's publication. That's nearing a million dollars from people all over, proving that love really can trump hate. And no, people don't have to give a ton — most of the donations on Penn's page appear to be in the $10-25 range. A little arithmetic would reveal just how many people are moved by messages like Penn's — that shakes out to tens of thousands of donations.
And in an equally inspiring effort, Sia promised to donate up to $100,000 to the ACLU if people sent her their donation receipts. And guess what? She surpassed that, later informing her followers they raised $300,000 for the organization.
Sia's challenge created a ripple effect, not only among fans, but in Hollywood — with Rosie O'Donnell vowing to match up to $100,00 herself. Jack Antonoff also promised to match up to $20,000 of fan donations, if they sent him their receipts.
Similarly to the stars who create crowdfunding pages, these celebs aren't only giving their own money, but encouraging others to donate — and actually getting them to do it.
Channeling Politics Into Art
At the 2017 Grammys, A Tribe Called Quest used music's biggest night to spread a message of resistance, along with Anderson .Paak, Busta Rhymes, and Consequence. In kicking down a wall, this clearly was a metaphor against President's Trump desire to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The message was all the more clear when they chanted, "Resist, resist, resist."
Similarly, Katy Perry donned a "persist" armband and Planned Parenthood pin when performing at the same ceremony. On top of that, she had the U.S. Constitution appear on the screen behind her — sending a not-so-subtle message about freedom of speech and supporting all people.
Those performances reached a huge audience. Following the show, the New York Times reported the 2017 Grammys had 1 million more viewers than last year, leading to 26 million total viewers. NYT deemed the Grammys "one of the most-viewed events in television." They said it's usually the second biggest award show after the Oscars, which had 34 million viewers last year. And that's only the amount that watched the Grammys the night of — that doesn't count those who later viewed online. Between just two different YouTube clips, Perry's performance garnered half a million views combined.
Meanwhile, A Tribe Called Quest added an additional 40,000 views of their performance on their VEVO YouTube channel. Not only that, but it was dubbed "a Halftime Show For the Ages" by GQ, while Harper's Bazaar called it "the most powerful and political performance" of the entire Grammys. On top of that, Slate declared, "A Tribe Called Quest Showed the Grammys How Political Statements Are Done."
Showing that these performances sparked conversation, Forbes attributes an increase in Grammy tweets to the political moments. The magazine noted that the show brought in 17.3 million tweets between 5 p.m. ET and midnight, which was more than last year's 17.2 million. Forbes also noted A Tribe Called Quest's call to "resist" spurred more than 82,000 tweets, and 11,600 about the word "persist," written on Perry's armband. There were also reportedly 85,000 tweets about Busta Rhyme's "President Agent Orange" comment. Not only are people tuning in for these award show moments, but they're speaking out online afterwards.
She may be a comedian, but Amy Schumer is serious about gun safety. After 11 people were shot and two killed at a screening of her movie Trainwreck in July 2015, Schumer teamed up with her cousin, New York Senator Chuck Schumer, to advocate for gun safety laws. Together, she and the senator supported legislation to fight against gun violence. While Congress did not vote to support this movement, she continues advocating for better gun legislation. At Glamour's 2015 Women of the Year Awards, Schumer spoke out about gun control yet again. A video of the speech on YouTube has over 688,000 views at the time of publication.
On top of that, Schumer's Saturday Night Live sketch on the subject has more than 4.6 million YouTube views at the time of reporting. Everyone, from The Hollywood Reporter to Entertainment Weekly to CNN to USA Today, was talking about it the next day. TIME even described the clip as "a searing reminder of the jarring everyday prevalence of guns."
Schumer's passionate messages aren't unlike those from reality star Kim Kardashian, who's been equally informative when it comes to spreading information about gun safety.
We have repeatedly called on Congress to close this loophole that makes it easy for dangerous people to get guns & kill.— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) June 12, 2016
Nothing has changed!!!! People continue to senselessly die. When will these gun laws be changed?!?!?!?!!!!?????— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) June 12, 2016
Following the shooting at Pulse nightclub, Kardashian shared a series of tweets about the terror gap and calling for change. Those posts garnered more than 20,000 retweets combined, plus more than 56,000 favorites. Additionally, a photo of the star wearing orange to support gun violence awareness got 1 million likes on Instagram. Her visibility is undeniable.
The Support Just Keeps Growing
While I can do my best to find numbers to go along with every celeb's activist actions, for much of their impact, there aren't specific barometers to measure what exact change they cause. But that by no means supports the notion that celebs' activism don't matter or doesn't belong.
While it can't necessarily be attributed to celebs, Planned Parenthood tells Bustle they have more than 600,000 new donors since the 2016 election, and 10 million supporters in total. In a statement, Caren Spruch, Director of Arts and Entertainment Engagement at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, says,
And that's the thing — celebrities aren't the only ones fighting, but there's no denying their actions are just as justified and relevant as yours or mine or any politicians' working to advocate for change. Celebs are spreading important messages on a wider scale than you or me, and reaching different audiences than your average politician. So before you blow off stars as shallow, think again. They're getting people talking, donating money, and inspiring people in the process — sounds like success to me.