Many celebrities stepped out of their usual roles as entertainers to get politically involved in the campaigns of prominent candidates during the 2018 midterm elections.
It is often thought that celebrities have no place in politics, for fear of mixing the two worlds. Some may even believe that having celebrities involved in politics can become an unfair advantage for the candidates they endorse, due to the expansive visibility they can achieve. However, their influence and ability to bring a candidate's presence to the awareness of their audience is something that is important for outreach and political engagement. It helps to catch the attention of undecided voters, who may be skeptical to put their trust in a person they aren’t too familiar with. Celebrity endorsements can work to encourage fans who also happen to be apathetic voters to participate in the voting process.
Although celebrities have been endorsing political candidates for years, this election was one for the books, as the number of Black celebrities contributing to candidates' political campaigns was plenty. From throwing rallies to donating funds, these Black celebrities created a significant impact on the campaign trail, especially for candidates whose win would also constitute as a historic first. Leveraging their fan base can be a difficult decision for celebrities to make, as they risk potentially alienating fans by shifting their brands to dive into the real-world issues that are also tackled by the candidates they endorse. However, because they believe in these candidates so much, they’re willing to put their influence on the line and use their power for political good.
Here are 10 Black celebrities who were politically engaged in this year’s midterm elections:
1. Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey made her way down to Georgia to campaign for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Winfrey reportedly pursued Abrams’ phone number and personally offered her public support. She even went as far as knocking on doors to tell people to vote for Abrams.
Queen Bey has been taking baby steps to get more politically involved. Beyoncé recently made headlines when she made the last-minute decision to share her support of Beto O’Rourke, the Democratic candidate for senator of Texas, via her Instagram.
I’m feeling grateful for everyone before me who fought so hard to give us all the right to have a voice. We can’t voice our frustrations and complain about what’s wrong without voting and exercising our power to make it right. We need you. We all need each other, because when we are truly united we are unstoppable. Sending you all love and positivity on this happy voting day! Every vote counts Every race matters Everywhere.
However, many criticized Beyoncé for getting involved in the political game quite late, even blaming her for O’Rourke’s loss in the election. This sort of situation exemplifies one of the reasons why many celebrities are hesitant to use their influence for political gain. Beyonce’s political power has been subtle, but it’s clear that her activism encourages her fans to get more involved in the democratic process, in addition to giving haters more to be mad about.
The pop star threw her endorsement behind gubernatorial nominees Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum, sharing her support for both candidates on her social media pages. She published her endorsement of Abrams on Twitter, calling her “an inspiration to women across the world.”
GEORGIA: I’m sure you already know, but incase you’re still wondering... it’s all about @StaceyAbrams for Governor! Stacey is an inspiration to women across the world!!!— Rihanna (@rihanna) November 6, 2018
We need everyone in Georgia to Vote TODAY! It’s going to take all of us to do the work! EVERY. VOTE. MATTERS! pic.twitter.com/vPOoM2nuV8
Likewise, in an Instagram post, RiRi encouraged followers voting in Florida to #BringItHome and vote for Gillum.
FLORIDA: You have the opportunity to make history this election. The US has only had four black Governors in its entire history, and we can help make #AndrewGillum the next one and Florida’s first! If you’re tired of feeling like you don’t matter in the political process, know the most important thing you can do in supporting a candidate is finding someone who will take on critical issues such as: making minimum wage a livable wage, paying teachers what their worth, ensuring criminal justice reform, making healthcare a right, and repealing Stand Your Ground. That’s a platform we MUST support. Let’s #bringithome, Florida. Vote @andrewgillum. And VOTE YES on Amendment 4 to restore voting rights to folks who have already paid their debt to society. VOTE on November 6th!
Rihanna has recently become more active, in terms of using her platform to declare her stance on political and social justice issues. She even refused to perform at the Super Bowl LIII, in of support for Colin Kaepernick. It's clear that Rihanna is quickly developing her political voice within her celebrity presence, and doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to quit.
The hip-hop mogul went above and beyond, throwing a rally/concert for Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum at Florida A&M University, the candidate’s alma mater.
YouTube | Andrew Gillum
The rally was attended by many of Diddy’s celebrity friends, including DJ Khaled and Tiffany Haddish.
In an endorsement video released by Gillum’s team, Diddy said that Gillum is “running a campaign for the people.”
YouTube | Andrew Gillum
“I’ve spoken with him at length. I believe in him — his ideas, his focus, what he stands for,” the Bad Boy Records founder continued.
Diddy also emphasized that Gillum’s Blackness isn’t the sole criteria for his endorsement, rather it’s Gillum’s qualification for governorship that inspired his support. As one of the richest celebrities in the business, Diddy’s innumerable connections most likely helped broaden Gillum’s appeal to young voters.
5. John Legend
The award-winning singer visited many college campuses throughout Atlanta to encourage students to vote for Abrams. During this tour, he specifically noted Abrams’ plans if elected, including working on a new student loan system. Additionally, Legend headlined a fundraiser concert in support of Abrams in Atlanta.
Legend has consistently showed up to support candidates in politics, and has managed to remain commercially successful throughout the years, even nailing the coveted EGOT — winning an Emmy, Tony, Oscar and Grammy.
In an interview with CNBC, Legend acknowledged the risks that come with being a celebrity and being politically active. “It’s probably alienating some people, and I understand that. But I think it’s worth the risk for me, because I care enough about these issues that I cannot just be silent,” Legend said.
Setting an example for other celebrities, Legend’s political and professional pursuits proves that celebrities don’t have to choose between maintaining their careers and popularity and being honest about their political preferences — they can have both.
6. Dave Chappelle
Comedian Dave Chappelle canvassed for Ben Jealous, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Maryland.
Not many celebrities can say they know the candidates they endorse on a personal level. However, Chappelle is the exception and doesn’t hide from the power of their connection.
8. Gabrielle Union
Gabrielle Union was one of the earliest supporters of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, tweeting in support of his campaign throughout the entirety of the race for governor in Florida.
The actress even went as far as sharing that she voted early for Gillum with her Twitter followers.
This is the man I'll be voting for. Join me Florida! https://t.co/NDKhDdB64k— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) August 26, 2018
9. Janelle Monáe
The singer has been an active supporter of Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, consistently writing Instagram and Twitter posts encouraging Georgians to vote for her.
Interestingly enough, when Monáe visited Spelman College as part of an initiative to inspire young voters to exercise their right to vote, she reportedly did not mention which specific candidates she endorsed. However, who she supported remained evident on social media. Monáe’s comfort with using social media to share her voice rather than during in-person appearances is a tactic some celebrities utilize to protect themselves and stay in their comfort zones. But Monáe’s active voice on social media is still a political move that counts.
This filmmaker and producer went a different route than most celebrity endorsers this year, reportedly donating $100,000 to Gillum’s campaign. Oftentimes, celebrities used their social media presence to endorse a candidate, but rarely ever show support through monetary means. Perry’s endorsement and generous contribution is a step in the right direction.
It is still inconclusive whether the influence and power of Black celebrities is enough to help political candidates win their elections. However, the fact that they tried to bring attention to people they believe in is another reminder that celebrities are human beings, who have thoughts and opinions outside of their own industry.
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