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Friday
Jan132017

Top 5 Celebrity Activists

Life in the spotlight has been considered a curse, but it can also give people and causes a voice that otherwise goes unheard. Here are 5 celebrities who have used their fame as a platform to advocate sustainability, climate action, indigenous rights, transgender awareness and women's rights.

1. Daryl Hannah

Flickr | World Travel and Tourism CouncilThe American actress was vegetarian by 11 and environmentally aware soon after; recognising the interconnectedness of the world around us, subsequently shaping her life toward sustainability.

Daryl Hannah has campaigned for individual causes before; standing up to big oil in the Peruvian rainforest, chaining herself to a tree to prevent the closure of a sustainable urban farm and becoming a crew member on the anti-whaling ship Sea Shepard. But she takes her environmentalism further in her lifestyle. Every environmental issue is connected by humanity’s habits and choices so Hannah took it upon herself to oust anything unsustainable from her life, growing her own food near her off-grid home, fuelling her car and tractor with homemade ethical biofuel, and only using 100% ethical, recyclable or vegan products. She even started a blog giving tips on how to live sustainably and achieve an eco-friendly lifestyle.

Being an advocate for green fuel she also helped found the Sustainable Biofuel Alliance, used to certify sustainably produced biofuel, and even drank some of her own biofuel to prove its safety.    

2. Laverne Cox    

Cox was the first transgender person to feature on the cover of TIMEStarring in the Netflix Original show Orange is the New Black, Laverne Cox is the first black transgender actress cast in a leading role on mainstream American television, giving a much needed boost to Trans awareness. After noticing the lack of transgender people on television Cox took up acting to shed light on and help combat the prejudice transgender women of colour face in the U.S. Her successful acting career has earned her multiple acting awards, an Emmy nomination and she has featured on the cover of TIME Magazine.

Cox went on to produce documentaries such as “Laverne Cox Presents: The T Word”, following the journeys of seven transgender youths, and “Free CeCe!” focusing on the injustices and prejudices CeCe McDonald and other victims of transphobic crime faced. McDonald was incarcerated for second degree manslaughter after defending herself against an unprovoked, transphobic attack. In spite of the evidence that her attacker was a neo-nazi with previous convictions of assault, she was denied a plea of self-defence and faced up to 80 years in jail. She was finally sentenced to 41 months and detained in a male prison despite identifying as a woman.

Laverne Cox spearheaded the FREE CECE campaign, with the documentary drawing huge support from America’s LGBT community, and after serving 19 months of her sentence CeCe McDonald was finally released in 2014.  

3. Shailene Woodley

Wikimedia Commons | Mingle Media TVShailene Woodley was one of the thousands of protestors attending the Standing Rock demonstrations throughout 2016 as the North Dakota Access Pipeline threatened to poison the standing rock Sioux tribe’s drinking reservoir.

Woodley was interviewed many times at the reservation calling for president Obama and his administration to show solidarity for the movement.

…these words around like ‘negotiate with the tribe’ and ‘compromise with the tribe’… they’ve negotiated for 500 years, and they’ve compromised for 500 years. And they didn’t have a choice not to because of colonisation.”  

Many Standing Rock Water Protectors were arrested for “trespass”, including Shailene. She was later acquitted and continued to protest against the pipeline by giving a passionate speech at the Environmental Media Awards calling for people to go to the Standing Rock reservation.

Other celebrities in protest of NoDAPL included Mark Ruffalo, Daryl Hanna, Neil Young and many more.

4. Emma Watson

Flickr | Marco BondEmma Watson is a figurehead and advocate for women’s rights and sexual equality, featuring in TIME Magazine’s top 100 most influential people. Being appointed as UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador has catalysed her humanitarian efforts promoting education and fair trade for women in developing countries.  

At the One Young World 2016 Summit Ms Watson announced 9 feminist activists that would be the first to each receive the Emma Watson Scholarship, a scheme designed to bolster women’s empowerment around the world. These activists promote a range of empowerment efforts including; higher education opportunities for women in Honduras; schooling opportunities for children in Cameroon;  sexual health awareness in Mozambique; teaching self-defence in Jordan; supporting female coffee farmers worldwide; leadership initiatives for young women in Jamaica; transgender awareness; and equal opportunities efforts for maritime women in Angola.

Emma Watson’s current efforts focus on gender inequality and campus assault in the university system, challenging the current gender gap in academic positions, as well as raising awareness on campus violence and the lack of empowering education in universities. Several institutions and prominent figures from around the world have already pledged their efforts in addressing these issues.

5. Leonardo DiCaprio

Leonardo DiCaprio used the acceptance speech of his first Oscar win to highlight the global issue of climate change and called for immediate global action.

DiCaprio has been advocating environmental action and wilderness preservation for most of his adult life. In 1998 he founded the Leonardo DiCaprio foundation, dedicated to the safeguarding and advocacy of forest and marine conservation, indigenous rights, mitigating climate change and innovative energy solutions.

He went on to produce the award winning documentaries Cowspiracy and Before the Flood, both focusing on one of the biggest drivers of climate change and its effects on the wider world respectively. Since its release Before the Flood has become one of the most widely distributed and watched documentaries in history with an average of 1billion minutes watched across digital media platforms. The National Geographic film featured DiCaprio speaking at the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit as a Messenger of Peace for Climate Change, as well as talking with Barak Obama, Pope Francis, Elon Musk and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, bringing immediacy to the issue of climate change.

By Thomas Phillips - Online Journalism Intern

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