50 celebrities with a history of protest
When there are so many injustices in society, many ordinary citizens organize and mobilize to fight for change. This can take on the forms of petitions and donations, but many take direct action in the streets, marching, protesting, giving speeches, and spreading the word to others. In the past several decades, entertainers and other types of celebrities have contributed to a number of causes.
Because these celebrities have a platform, whether it is general public interest from being followed by the tabloids, or in more recent decades, a large social media following, whatever cause they support will instantly garner more attention. Celebrities may create organizations and other initiatives to support protesting citizens, speak at rallies and protests, or use televised platforms such as award ceremonies to promote a certain issue.
The issues that celebrities highlight cover a large range, including animal cruelty, police brutality, government surveillance, military action, environmental injustice, and civil rights relating to Black Americans or LGBTQ+ citizens. The fame that a number of celebrities have garnered is partially due to the work they have done in advocating and promoting these topics to the general public and the news at large.
Most recently, 2020 brought worldwide protests against police brutality in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, stemming from the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Several celebrities have been observed as taking part in these in-person protests. With all of these famous names also out in the streets, the role of the celebrity in these moments in time of social strife has been brought into a discussion.
With the release of Bruce Springsteen's latest album, "Letter to You," Stacker looked back the artist's storied history of activism and protest anthems, from the hardship of the Vietnam War veteran personified in "Born in the U.S.A." to his latest support of the Black Lives Matter movement. He's part of a cadre of musicians and other celebrities who have championed social causes. Through news articles, listicles, and retrospectives, Stacker has compiled a list of 50 celebrities fighting for different causes who have a history of participating in protests or have made significant news through their participation. Click on to see which causes your favorite stars may have supported.
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Actress Jane Fonda is famous for being an activist for most of her professional career, advocating for a number of issues. Fonda was arrested in 1970 for her role in a speaking tour that protested the Vietnam War, spending a night in jail. Most recently in 2019 and 2020, the 81-year-old Fonda has been arrested several times during demonstrations that protested the use of fossil fuels by oil companies.
Legendary boxing champion Muhammad Ali became an outspoken figure against the Vietnam War, refusing to join the U.S. Army. Declaring himself a conscientious objector, in part due to his religious beliefs, Ali was arrested and stripped of his titles. Even so, Ali would become a countercultural figure for civil rights and pacifism, and his conviction of draft evasion was eventually overturned by the Supreme Court.
“Avengers” star Mark Ruffalo is one of the highest-profile activists against fracking, participating in multiple protests against oil companies. While fracking is the main issue that the public relates to Ruffalo, the actor has also been seen protesting against President Donald Trump. Ruffalo eventually produced and starred in a 2019 anti-fracking film called “Dark Waters.”
As a musician, Alicia Keys has added musical flair to her activism. Keys has not only spoken at various demonstrations protesting Trump administration immigration policies, the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and police brutality, but she has also contributed a number of protest songs that tackle some of these issues.
As one of the most prolific celebrities in Hollywood, George Clooney has used his star power to bolster his humanitarian efforts. Clooney had long been vocal about finding a resolution to the War in Darfur, interfacing with world leaders and the United Nations as well as taking part in a number of documentaries spreading awareness about the conflict. In 2012, Clooney was arrested during a protest at the Sudanese Embassy in Washington D.C.
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Actress Rosario Dawson is also known for being an activist, primarily demonstrating in support of the Democratic Party. In 2004, Dawson was arrested during the Republican National Convention while protesting against George W. Bush. She had also been protesting in Washington D.C. in 2016 while attending a rally and speaking out against the role of money in politics.
Oscar-winning actor Marlon Brando was influential not only for his roles in films like “The Godfather” and “On the Waterfront,” but also for his political idealism and activism. Brando participated in the movement for civil rights in the 1960s and favored a boycott toward South Africa for its apartheid policies. In support of Indigenous people in the Americas, Brando made a scene at the 1973 Academy Awards by refusing to accept his best actor trophy and sent Native American actress Sacheen Littlefeather to speak on his behalf.
Active in a number of social causes, actress Eartha Kitt advocated for and supported underprivileged children in Los Angeles. Kitt also protested against the Vietnam War, and as with many politically active celebrities at the time, she was under surveillance by the CIA. Her most public and vocal criticism of the war came during a White House luncheon that President Lyndon Johnson attended.
After an accident that left him paralyzed, former “Superman” Christopher Reeve spent the rest of his life and career advocating for stem cell research and the treatment of neurological disorders. Having his spinal cord damaged after a horse-riding accident, Reeve made the need for medical support for disabled people his primary focus, creating the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation to fund research and improve the quality of life for patients.
John Lennon and Yoko Ono
The couple, consisting of former Beatle John Lennon and musician Yoko Ono, primarily focused on promoting peace and anti-war with their works of art, with “Imagine” and “Give Peace a Chance” being some of the more famous songs from the duo. The leftist politics and prolific nature of the couple led to the Nixon administration attempting to deport Lennon from the United States.
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