Politicians have always come to Hollywood to raise money, but since Donald Trump became president, celebrities are revising that script – using their star power to influence political change, instead of just raising money.
It’s more than just celebrity activism. As the 2018 midterm elections approach, Hollywood stars are pushing for action on issues ranging from human rights to gun control to the threat of nuclear war. And their talent agencies — whose main function is usually to get movie stars the best jobs — play a prominent role.
The groundswell for political engagement has become so overwhelming since Trump’s election that ICM Partners, a talent agency that previously helped stars such as Shonda Rhimes and Bradley Whitford with “civic engagement,” created a brand new division last year led by political strategist Hannah Linkenhoker. .
“The world is really spinning right now – everyone is looking for ways to make a difference and get involved,” ICM managing partner Chris Silbermann told Variety. “We want to take our commitment to another level.”
An example: Last month, Linkenhoker and the ICM organized a meeting in Washington for “Homeland” actress Nazanin Boniadi, who hosted a bipartisan public event aimed at bringing the status of Iranian women and women’s rights to the fore. center of discussions on the White House’s Iran nuclear deal. The event was attended by Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del. and Thom Tillis, RN.C.
The actress also dated Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, DN.Y. “The message was, ‘You are a leader on human rights in America, you should know the women in Iran,'” Linkenhoker said.
“A lot of people think [the upcoming midterm elections] are the most important elections of our lifetime,” said an internal political strategist for a major talent agency.
“A lot of people think this is the most important election of our lifetimes,” Linkenhoker said of the midterms, noting it’s the first time since Trump became president that voters nationally can express themselves.
William Morris Endeavor, led by Ari Emanuel – the brother of Rahm Emanuel, the Chicago mayor and former chief of staff to President Barack Obama – launched its own internal political arm just 20 days after Trump was elected.
“No matter which side of the aisle you sit on or where in the world you live, the call for meaningful and sustained civic engagement is stronger than ever,” read a company memo during the interview. launch, urging staff to get involved.
Amos Buhai, vice president of government relations at parent company Endeavour, said the PAC was not just for staff but for customers. “Many clients were trying to figure out what just happened and wanted to create a vehicle to support candidates who shared their values of inclusivity, entrepreneurship and voter turnout.”
Since then, the company has partnered with a host of organizations from UNICEF to Everytown for Gun Safety to match entertainment customers with causes. This is not a safe practice, as celebrities expressing their political views can sometimes alienate part of their audience.
From Taylor Swift to the Dixie Chicks, speaking out can help or hurt celebrities in a big way. Swift recently endorsed two Democratic candidates in Tennessee, where she moved as a teenager. In an Instagram post on Sunday, Swift said she supports LGBTQ rights and stands against systemic racism and other forms of discrimination. Trump said Monday, “Let’s say I like Taylor’s music about 25% less now.”
“I think it’s time for all of us to step out of our comfort zones a bit and stretch and use our voices,” ABC’s ‘Black-ish’ star Tracee Ellis Ross told Billboard News about Swift. “And when you have a platform, I think that’s a good place to speak loudly.”
Earlier this year, model Gigi Hadid saw firsthand what can happen when you hold an opinion. Hadid promoted the work of UNICEF, alongside Tascha Rudder, executive director of the Endeavor Foundation, the philanthropic arm of WME’s parent company. But when Hadid, whose father is Palestinian, took to Twitter to say that Jews and Palestinians should try to coexist peacefully, his comments received the inevitable Twitter takedown.
One of the worst examples of backlash after wading into political debate occurred in 2003 when Natalie Maines, lead singer of the Dixie Chicks, criticized Iraq war plans. After telling a concert crowd, “We’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas,” fans burned the band’s albums and radio stations blacklisted the band for years.
Not everyone thinks celebrities are the most effective agents of change. Brett Bruen, a former diplomat and director of global engagement at the White House under Obama, said the women’s march after Trump’s inauguration and calls for gun control after the mass shootings pushed stars to speak out, but being an effective agent of change is much more difficult.