It might have been raining but there was no mistaking the tears falling from John Boyega’s face as he delivered an impassioned speech at a Black Lives Matter protest in Hyde Park yesterday. ‘I’m speaking to you from my heart,' he cried through a megaphone. 'I don’t know if I’m going to have a career after this, but f*** that.'
The Star Wars actor from Peckham is the perfect example of a celebrity willing to not only use his platform on social media to speak out against racial discrimination, but also take that activism offline and into the real world by marching side-by-side with those who want to dismantle systems of racial oppression. His response to the police brutality that led to the death of George Floyd was immediate, and his criticism of the continued racism that disproportionately targets the Black community that he is a part of - both in the US and in the UK - has been consistent. Boyega is not afraid of losing roles by censoring his message. For him, community comes before career. But what about his peers?
Offline, we’ve seen countless celebrities take to the streets to protest. Halsey and Yungblud have been giving first aid to injured protestors. Ariana Grande, Harry Styles, Timothee Chalamet, Kristen Stewart, Ben Affleck and even Jedward have been spotted marching in LA and New York, while Hustlers actress Keke Palmer was filmed giving the military a dressing down, getting them to take a knee.
Online, there are a lot of White A-Listers and non-Black celebrities of colour sharing posts of solidarity, but for many of their fans, that seemed the bare minimum of what they could be doing. The #BlackOutTuesday campaign saw Instagram flooded with black squares by individuals like Jake Gyllenhaal and Emma Watson. Some used the wrong hashtag - causing issues for those following #BlackLivesMatter protests and activists - or provided no context or support links for the cause they were trying to champion. But we must urgently address what comes next: the donations, the hard work.
Too many celebrities subscribe to a kind of aesthetic activism. Pretty artwork, sanitised words and bandwagon hashtags dominate the surface of their social media every time a video of a Black body being brutalised goes viral, but rarely offer any depth of discussion underneath especially for those who have weaponised their white privilege against Black people. It is all good condemning racism, but if you haven’t practised what you preach then you should be ready for people to call you out on it - as Glee actress Lea Michele discovered this week - and not go on the defensive.
What’s clear is that this time around, the world is not in the mood for well-meaning platitudes from celebrities if in a week or month's time they return to business as usual. Fans want to see their heroes put their money where their mouth is, as with model Chrissy Teigen, who has pledged $200,000 to bail out protestors. They want celebrities to hold leaders to account, as with Taylor Swift calling out President Trump directly. We can forgive silence in the past if celebrities amplify their voice, and those of marginalised voices, both now and in the future.
Racism is not a moment. It is a 365-day-a-year problem. And celebrities have the power to influence and inspire effective change, as long as they are willing to stay in the fight.