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10 Celebrity Activists Who Make the World a Better Place

Updated on June 18, 2018

If you think celebrities are only good at acting and photoshoots think again. From Jane Fonda’s anti-Vietnam war protests to Elizabeth Taylor helping patients with HIV, Hollywood has produced some amazing celebrities who were never confined to pre-written roles. They weren’t afraid to speak their mind and fight a cause they believed in. So here is a list of 10 contemporary celebrities who are making the world better through their humanitarian work and political activism.

Angelina Jolie

The academy award winning actress is undoubtedly one of the most devoted celebrities engaged in humanitarian works and activism. Her efforts to provide humanitarian relief and lobby for such causes has taken her all over the world. She has donated in causes such as helping refugees, building schools, helping rape victims in war torn countries, environmental protection, and helping people with AIDS.

In 2001 she donated $1 million to United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to aid millions of Afghan refugees living in Pakistan and Iran. Two years later, she co-founded the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation in Cambodia - which aims at conservation and community development programs there. She also co-chairs the Educational Partnership for Children in Conflict, which provides safe schooling for kids fleeing violence or war.

In 2012 Angelina co-founded the initiative with former Secretary of State Lord William Hague to combat sexual violence in global conflict zones. That year, After more than a decade of dedicated service to UNHCR, Angelina Jolie was appointed Special Envoy.

The Hollywood film industry recognized her humanitarian works throughout her career by presenting her with the prestigious Jean-Hersholt Humanitarian award in 2013.

Scarlett Johansson

Scarlett Johansson was a Global Ambassador to Oxfam, an anti-poverty coalition and has worked as an ambassador to RED - which raises funds to fight AIDS.

Johansson has been politically active for a long time. She campaigned for the Democratic candidate John Kerry in the 2004 United States presidential election. She also campaigned for the Democratic candidate Barack Obama both in 2008 and 2012.

She has been a vehement advocate of women’s reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood for more than a decade. During the 2012 presidential campaign she condemned Mitt Romney for his opposition to abortion rights. In 2017, she spoke at the Women's March on Washington, reaffirming her support of Planned Parenthood: “I believe with every fibre of my being that the conversation that we have with our partners and our doctors about what we do with our bodies and our future should not be made fodder for any politician, political agenda, lawmaker and for-profit corporation. We must stand up for our basic human rights and move forwards; never backwards.”

Leonardo DiCaprio

For almost 20 years the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, a non-profit eco-organization, has raised and donated millions of dollars in protecting forests, saving endangered species and combating climate change.

In 2013, from a charity event of 11th Hour Art Auction, the DiCaprio Foundation raised $38.8 million for advancing environmental protection and wildlife conservation. At the opening of the auction, DiCaprio, who has championed environmental issues through his foundation since 1998 said to the audience, "Bid as if the fate of the planet depended on us."

DiCaprio has produced and starred in documentaries about environment and animal rights such as The 11th Hour, Before the Flood and Cowspiracy.

In 2014, he was designated as a United Nations Messenger of Peace with a focus on climate change, and later that year he made an opening statement to members of the UN Climate Summit. He again spoke at the UN in April 2016 prior to the signing of Paris Climate Change Agreement.

In September 2017, the LDF announced its “largest ever portfolio of environmental grants , increasing the organization’s total direct financial impact to over $80 million since 2008.” The grants, went to more than 100 organizations, have been awarded for wildlife and habitat conservation, to aide in the defense of indigenous rights, and to support innovative grass roots efforts aimed at combating climate change and solving complex environmental issues.

DiCaprio gave a powerful speech at the 2016 Oscar when he won the award for best actor. “It [climate change] is the most urgent threat facing our entire species and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating,” he said.

Lady Gaga

As an openly bi-sexual celebrity, Lady Gaga has been a passionate advocate for LGBTQ rights. In 2009, the then 23 year old singer, songwriter and gay icon gave a powerful speech at the National Equality March in Washington. “They say this country is free. And they say this country is equal. But it’s not equal, if it’s sometimes” she said with an unwavering voice

In September 13, 2010, Gaga attended the MTV Music Video Awards red carpet walking alongside four gay and lesbian former US Military service members, in protest to US military’s discriminatory “don’t ask, don’t tell” (DADT) policy - which banned open homosexuality in the military. She quickly became the unofficial face of the campaign to repeal the DADT. Later that month Gaga called on her fans via YouTube to ask their senators to repeal DADT. A week later the discriminatory policy was repealed. The following month a Pew research survey showed that support for gay marriage has increased from 37% to 42% and for the first time fewer than half the people in the US opposed gay marriage.

Together with her mother Cynthia Germanotta, Gaga started the Born This Way Foundation in 2012,. The foundation is committed to supporting the wellness of young people and empowering them to create a kinder and braver world.

Sean Penn

Oscar winning actor and filmmaker Sean Penn has never been the one to keep away from controversy. In 2002, he payed Washington Post $56,000 to print an open letter to then president Bush in the newspaper. The letter expressed doubts over Saddam having weapons of mass destruction and called on the president to not go on a preemptive war that will lead to a tremendous loss of lives on both sides.

Concerned about a possible war, in 2002, he visited Iraq and again called for peace. During the Iraq war Penn criticised George W. Bush and his foreign policies many times, going so far as to saying Bush was a “traitor to American principles”. He also blasted the stars in Hollywood - who he called “comfortable cowards” - for their silence.

In 2009, Penn received an Oscar for best actor for his film Milk - in which he plays the role of Harvey Milk, the first ever openly gay person to be elected to the public office in California. Penn started his speech by saying, “You commie, homo-loving sons of guns." During the award ceremony Christian anti-gay protesters were demonstrating outside the Kodak theater. Referring to them Sean said,"For those who saw the signs of hatred as our cars drove in tonight, I think that it is a good time for those who voted for the ban against gay marriage to sit and reflect and anticipate their great shame and the shame in their grandchildren's eyes if they continue that way of support. We've got to have equal rights for everyone."

Sean Penn has been an activist in humanitarian crisis too. He visited New Orleans and Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010, providing disaster relief.

Alyssa Milano

A UNICEF Goodwill ambassador since 2003, Alyssa Milano has been one of the most active celebrities combating AIDS and Neglected Tropical diseases. As the UNICEF ambassador, she has traveled to Angola, India and Kosovo and has helped raised funds for the organization to fight these disease.

But Alyssa Milano’s activism started in the 1980s when she went to the Phil Donahue Show with Ryan White, a teenage boy who had contracted AIDS at 13 and his expulsion from his Indiana school and the consequent legal battle had received nationwide media attention. After he was readmitted he faced discrimination and bullying from his classmates. When on the show Milano shocked the audience by kissing Ryan on the cheek, to show that AIDS isn’t transmitted through casual contact.

In 2015, Milano endorsed Bernie Sanders for president. When Sanders lost the primary she expressed her support for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

In 2017, her tweet encouraging women who have been the victim of sexual harassment or assault to tweet the hashtag “metoo” started the #metoo movement. She later said, “Not only is this a horrible thing that happens in my industry, but it’s something that happens in every industry. It’s really inspiring to think this [the #metoo movement] might continue and things might change.”

Jennifer Lawrence

The Hunger Games actress donates to causes related to health and arts education. In 2013, she helped raise money for the St. Mary's Center, a facility which helps mentally challenged adults.

She started the Jennifer Lawrence Foundation which “assists and empowers charitable organizations that fulfill children’s vital needs and drives arts awareness and participation.” In 2016, She donated $2 million from her foundation to open the Jennifer Lawrence Foundation Cardiac Intensive Care Unit in Kosair Children's Hospital, Kentucky.

Same year Lawrence also founded the Jennifer Lawrence Arts Fund which works at “delivering arts access, education, and excellence opportunities” and donated more than $200,000 to several Greater Louisville arts organizations

Lawrence has been an outspoken defender of Planned Parenthood. In an interview with Glamour January 2016 she spoke candidly on the issue and about how Planned Parenthood helped her as a teenager. “It isn't an attack on abortions,” she said, speaking of the 2015 attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic. “It's an attack on women. Because Planned Parenthood is so much more [than abortion]. My mom was really religious with me when I was young. She's not so much anymore. And I wouldn't have been able to get birth control if it weren't for Planned P. I wouldn't have been able to get condoms and birth control and all these things I needed as a normal teenager who was growing up in a Jesus house.”

Lawrence is not afraid to call herself a feminist either. “I don't know why that word is so scary to people; it shouldn't be, because it just means equality” she said.

Emma Watson

In July 2014, Emma Watson was appointed as a UN Women Goodwill ambassador. The following September she gave a speech at a special event for the HeForShe campaign - which seeks to actively involve men and boys to understand and promote gender equality, in the United Nations Headquarters In that speech she spoke about how the basic aspiration of gender equality is yet to be reached and how men and women need to work together to accomplish that goal.

Watson also gave a speech about gender equality in January 2015, at the World Economic Forum's annual winter meeting

She is involved in supporting many other causes such as conservation, fighting hunger, disaster relief and providing education to children. In her efforts to advance these causes she supports the Great Ormond Street Hospital (provides pediatric services), Save the Children, Millennium Promise, Sense, and ShelterBox.

This year, in the wake of the Time’s Up movement, Watson has donated £1 million to the UK Justice and Equality Fund - which will “provide a network of expert advice, support to anyone who has been a victim of sexual abuse or harassment in the UK.

Eva Longoria

The actress, filmmaker and star of Desperate Housewives has founded two separate charity organizations. One is the Eva Longoria Foundation which helps latinas by providing them education and entrepreneurial training and opportunities. The other is Eva’s Heroes which helps children with intellectual disabilities. Almost 2000 kids are currently registered in the foundation’s programs.

She also co-founded the Latino Victory Project with Henry R. Muñoz III. which looks to support and elect leaders who represent their values, increase the participation of latinos in politics and increase the number of latino donors who can help their candidates.

Longoria supported Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2012 and was named his co-chair. She traveled the country campaigning for him and raising funds for his re-election. She spoke at Democratic National Convention in 2016 in support of Hillary Clinton.

Shailene Woodley

The Golden Globe Award nominated actress and activist became the poster girl for environmental causes when she was arrested in October 2016 while she was protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline - which could negatively impact the air, water and wildlife in the area. She plead guilty was sentenced to one year of unsupervised probation.

She also co-founded the non-profit organization All it Takes, which tries to makes positive changes in society and the environment and build young leadership.


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