AT the recent Golden Globes, Oprah Winfrey gave a rousing and inspiring speech when she became the first black woman to win the Cecil B. DeMille award.
The media superstar used her public platform to shine a light on all the injustice and inequality experienced by women in every industry all over the world, and honour those who have come forward with their stories in the wake of the sexual harassment scandal that has rocked Hollywood.
I had goosebumps listening to Winfrey’s galvanising speech, and the first thing that crossed my mind was how she could easily become a US presidential candidate in 2020. Now, wouldn’t that be awesome! Here’s an abridged history about this gem of a woman.
Winfrey has always been a cultural phenomenon as long as I can remember. Born into a poor home in Mississippi (something happened between here and there) she started out as a television news and talk show personality in the 1980s. Since then, she went on to become the face of TV talk shows, starred in and produced feature films, and even began her own network.
In the US, there are many celebrities who make a stand on pertinent issues. J. Lo (Jennifer Lopez), Taylor Swift, and Angelina Jolie are just some of them. Their voices carry a lot of weight (like mine when I tell my children to finish their homework) as they are very hands-on (like me when I have to cook at home for the brood) in championing respective causes.
J. Lo and her sisters started the Lopez Family Foundation to deliver accessible, quality healthcare to mothers and their children. The foundation also helps spread awareness about the need to exercise and have a healthy diet to those living in the Bronx, where they grew up. In addition, the UN Foundation named Jennifer a Global Advocate for Girls and Women in 2015.
And, what hasn’t Jolie done? The actress’ dedication to charity work has become her true passion. She became the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in the late 2000s and has visited countless countries helping refugees find a safe space, as well as speaking to Congress on behalf of the UN.
Country singer Dolly Parton, who grew up poor in the hills of Tennessee, founded the Imagination Library to help ignite a love of reading in children; it sends children a book per month. Now, the Imagination Library is available all over the US and even in the UK, sending out over 60 million books to children everywhere.
Even TV reality star Kim Kardashian who is known for her “fashion sense” does her bit. One of her favourite charities is “Dress for Success”, which provides women with appropriate get-up for job interviews and gives them the skills to succeed in the professional world. No wonder they are called Hollywood royalty. Amazing.
On the home front, we do have a good number of influential artistes. Maya Karin, for instance, is known to be a passionate conservation activist. Actively involved in various campaigns for environmental and animal protection, she often works with the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) on a number of projects such as the MNS’ Raptor Watch programme, serving as ambassador; and has helped the WWF raise awareness of tiger conservation. She also supports the Earth Hour initiative and has initiated her own campaign, MayaLovesNature, where she worked with 22,000 school children from 14 primary schools to create awareness of plastic bag waste. The popular actress, who is also the celebrity spokesperson for the Geological Institute of Malaysia, has also attended Al Gore’s “The Climate Project” training in Melbourne. She is such a nerd and we love her for that!
Others who actively engage in PR-friendly charity work include Faizal Tahir, Siti Saleha, Lisa Surihani, Harith Iskander, Sazzy Falak, Aizat Amdan, Fara Fauzana, Daphne Iking, and many more. With their popularity and wide reach, celebrities can be spokespersons, board members or even founders of charities, making people like you and me aware of the various causes that need our support.
Just imagine what popular actress and TV host Noor Neelofa Mohd Noor (who has some 5.4 million Instagram followers) can do as the non-executive independent director of AirAsia. If she wants to create either an education or a health initiative that would greatly improve the quality of life, her fans would most likely render their support through any means necessary.
That aside, in recent times, some local artistes have begun making their stand on pressing issues from politics to high cost of living, among others. There have been calls that they should stay away from being seen as a divisive force since their fans cut across all background, creed and political inclination.
Regardless, some have proceeded to “act as the voice of the people” and took to social media to say their piece. Although they appear to gain some traction, somehow it seems sensationalised. Triggering long-winded, unconstructive debates among Netizens does not cut it. Making a stand without participating in seeing changes, does not lend much weight to their credibility as a game changer.
For example, after dishing out a line or two about how expensive meals are at a restaurant, how about forming a strong campaign to lower food prices, or collect funds and help provide a cheaper alternative? For many of our artistes, their concerns seem a one-off thing, where continuity or real action is missing.
Winfrey’s speech was felt by many across the globe because she is seen as someone who is “with the people”, while many of our celebrities seek popularity without real substance, focusing solely on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Artistes make up an important segment in the nation’s development. Their contribution in the creative industry is critical to ensure an innovative economy. That is why some were invited to attend the National Transformation 2050 or TN50 dialogue with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak recently so that they can participate and provide input.
A certain degree of credibility must be visible, as well as that of hands-on approach. If artistes believe they are destined for greater things, then a deeper level of commitment is a must.
The writer is a passionista with a keen interest in showbiz and pop culture (online shopping included!). And oh, she is also the Entertainment Editor