You may have noticed back in June that I was so personally struck by the events at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando to the point that we decided to donate a percentage of our sales to support the victims and their families. That was why it was even that more touching when I saw the latest video by musical visionary Sia for her song “The Greatest.” The video begins with her muse Maddie Ziegler in an all-black wig with rainbow coloured tear stains on her cheeks. The setting for most of the music video appears to take you from a home to a nightclub. The shot ends with everyone on the ground with bullet holes in the wall behind them. Now I’m a huge Sia fan as everything she touches turns to gold, and I’ve always been impressed with the talented young Maddie, but this caused me to stop and consider what is the role of the celebrity when it comes to social change.
I’m sure we all remember the blowback some celebrities have experienced by making “controversial” statements through their art. One of the more recent examples is Beyoncé’s Super Bowl performance, channeling her inner Black Panther and throwing a nod to Malcom X while showing support for the Black Lives Matter movement (if you don’t know what the Black Lives Matter movement is, it was started in protest of the killing of unarmed men of colour in the United States by police and has grown to draw attention to racial inequality worldwide). In that very same performance, Coldplay showed their support for marriage equality rights with their rainbow-coloured placards spelling out “Believe In Love” throughout the entire stadium.
While many people said that this one performance showed just how far the LGBT+ rights movement has come and the fact that Queen Bey has put herself on the line to stand up for a cause in which she believes, the recriminations were also swift and biting. Some suggested her statement was anti-police, some stated that it was inappropriate to take a “family event” and turn it into a political statement and some of the criticism was just too inappropriate to restate here.
While not everyone appreciated the statement Beyoncé was making with her performance, not all celebrities have received the same backlash. I haven’t heard too many people criticize Angelina Jolie for her role with the United Nations High Council for Refugees. Nor has there been much said about Julia Roberts and her work with Earth Biofuels or UNICEF though some, like designer Kenneth Cole, chose controversy to draw attention to their causes.
There are a lot of people who criticize these celebrities for using their global influence to make statements, saying things like “we pay you to entertain, not to tell us what to do.” While that is partly true, I believe that it would be a waste of that microphone we’ve handed them not to take a stance on what they believe is right. If Emma Watson can use her status to get us thinking about the waste and harm our industry has on the environment, how can that possibly be a bad thing? Why is it that when a video like Sia’s attempts to empower people to have the courage to be themselves, that’s not right? It seems as though if they agree with you and your world view they are applauded, but when they don’t, that’s where they should keep their mouth shut. I can’t say there aren’t a few celebrities I wish would keep their opinions to themselves (I won’t name any names) but I appreciate and respect them for using their status, earned or not, to let us know who they are and get people talking about topics outside of their normal echo chambers.
Now, I hope you get the feels from watching "The Greatest."