This week, actor Priyanka Chopra was not her best self at the Beautycon in Los Angeles. It can be argued that she was not expecting to be called out for being a hypocrite for her views about India-Pakistan, at a beauty convention, but her ‘celebrity’ status and decision to voice her views meant that her stance on the matter became important. While some have expressed a desire for celebrities to ‘stick to their crafts’ and others have questioned the value of ‘celebrity activism’ one thing is clear: they need to remember that with great power comes great influence.
Ayesha Malik, a Pakistani-American, criticized Chopra over a Feb. 26 tweet that read ‘Jai Hind’ and #IndianArmedForces. She questioned her being the UN Ambassador for peace and then being so callous with her statements during such a sensitive time. When the NY Times asked her whether there was a specific trigger she shared, “The reason why it was more upsetting seeing Priyanka Chopra’s tweet compared to the hundreds of other Bollywood actors, who also tweeted word for word the same thing, was because she’s Mrs. Jonas, she’s Miss World, she’s in Baywatch, she was in Quantico.” It bothered her more because of Chopra’s huge audience and therefore, it boils down to an actor’s influence and what they choose to do with it.
There’s a lot of danger involved when such influential celebrities, given the added power of social media, make troublesome statements that are nationalistic or fuel a negative rhetoric. It only takes one glance at your Twitter feed to see the dangerous consequences of this. People are increasingly reposting celebrity views on political issues like they have genuine weight and these rapidly garner support to the point where celebrity opinion can sometimes replace the facts on the issue. When the PC issue came up, some people were glad the Kashmir issue even got light in the mainstream media but if we’ve gotten to the point where an actor’s words at a Beautycon determine the way people view arguably the most significant and complicated international conflict of this century; there is something wrong with the way we view celebrity political statements.
There are quite a few local actors who have voiced their loyalties with politicians. The first that comes to mind is Hamza Ali Abbasi, most active on Twitter and vocal about his views; Farhan Saeed, who lent his vocals for the PTI song; and his family of the Hocane sisters, who are equally supportive of PTI. Mahira Khan and Osman Khalid Butt have always written in favour of Jibran Nasir but political party affiliations aside, it is the civil responsibility of someone speaking out about sensitive politics to better educate themselves before they make statements or completely avoid politics and stay neutral. In my opinion, when someone with so much social clout stays silent it feels like an act of self-service alone. Armeena Khan wrote out her views on the Chopra debacle in an open letter to the UN and Mehwish Hayat wrote one for CNN.
At the end of the day, it depends on the fans to decide what weight to give to a celebrity’s statement. When people blindly agree with the opinions of others, it’s a problem whether that person is a friend, family member or your favourite celebrity actor. When celebrities speak on contentious issues, they should inspire their followers to learn about the ideas for themselves. Political celebrity speech should start a conversation and not be the end of it.