The power of celebrity endorsement on social issues

Shailene Woodley was arrested for participating in the Dakota Pipeline protest. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

When celebrities get involved in politics, one of two things can occur. They either use their fame to enhance awareness of an issue or they cause harm by acting out and fostering negative attention. 

Two celebrities, actress Shailene Woodley and Green Party candidate Jill Stein, have both thrust themselves into the Dakota Pipeline protest, however, they greatly varied in how they chose to utilize their fame.

Both Woodley and Stein had been outspoken allies of the movement and both have gone in person to participate in the peaceful protests. Stein, however, chose to use the protest as a method to boost her stagnant poll numbers by resorting to vandalism and tarnishing the nature of the peaceful protests.

Woodley, though somewhat radical in her perception of the media’s role in covering the issue, did not go against or attempt to upstage the protest. She simply stood in solidarity with those peacefully conveying their opposition to the $3.8 million pipeline. 

The protesting began when the Dakota Access Pipeline, which will be 1,170 miles long upon completion, was set to cross under the Missouri River. The oil pipeline is near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, and building it would require the bulldozing of sacred burial sites. 

Tribal and environmental activists fear the pipeline, which will transport massive amounts of oil under the Missouri River. The protests have been ongoing and media coverage has slowly increased as big name stars begin to join the protestors and stand up against the pipeline. 

The issue has trended multiple times on twitter, showing the influence celebrities can have on social movements.

Angelina Jolie is renowned for her humanitarian work across the world. As a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations (U.N.) since 2001, her name has been linked to a variety of issues, most famously her work with refugees.

Her involvement has brought attention to issues that otherwise would more than likely have been overlooked. The U.N. is notorious for linking well-known faces with crucial causes; Hence, Emma Watson and Anne Hathaway’s positions as goodwill ambassadors for the organization.

Unfortunately, not all celebrities do even a fraction of research before throwing their name and passion behind a cause. The short film “Kony 2012” led to an international uprising as people banned together to petition for the removal of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a guerrilla group that was notorious for using child soldiers. 

Kim Kardashian, Nicki Minaj and Bill Gates all supported the movement and were advocating for their fans to join them in the fight against such inhumane oppressors. What they failed to realize was that Kony and the LRA had been gone from Uganda for over five years. 

The entire movement was considered a mockery due to the uninformed comments made by those championing the movement. The issue of Kony and the LRA had not been eradicated, it had simply relocated. But the embarrassment brought on by the uninformed statements damaged the cause and the public focused more on the idiocy of the remarks than on finding a way to stop Kony from waging war in other countries. 

Celebrities have the ability to shine a spotlight on an underrepresented issue. If handled with care and sensitivity, the icon can play a key role in implementing change. However, if that person uses the issue to benefit him- or herself, rather than the other way around, they can do irreparable harm. 

The Dakota Pipeline protest had not been drawing an immense amount of national attention prior to Stein and Woodley’s involvement. While it is unfortunate that the public often fails to care until someone they’ve watched or admired on television gets involved, it is often the reality. 

Public figures need to recognize that truth and begin to monitor how they interact with political or social issues. 


Breanne Williams is a senior majoring in mass communications.