Say what you want about celebrities, but there’s no denying that they have an influence and a platform to effect change. Though it’s easy for them to sit on their asses and rake in the millions of dollars they make yearly, stars such as Angelina Jolie, Leonardo DiCaprio, and more are using their star power for good to make a difference in the world.
Whether they’re advocating for environmental awareness or women’s rights, these stars aren’t letting their stardom go to waste. And while we’re not taking away from the many world-changing accomplishments that non-celebrity activists do, there’s no question that celebrity power can help a movement tremendously. Though these celebrities are far from unproblematic (no one is), they have their heads in the right places when it comes to advocacy. Ahead, find out which celebrities have become powerful activists.
Best known for roles in "Divergent" and "Big Little Lies," Woodley has been a tireless environmental and climate activist. In 2010, the actress and her mother, Lori, founded the nonprofit organization All It Takes, aimed at encouraging young people to act sustainably. Woodley, a vocal supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders, has also protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline. While protesting, she was arrested for criminal trespassing in October 2016 and was sentenced to a year of probation. Woodley took activist Calina Lawrence, whom she met at Standing Rock protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline, to the 2018 Golden Globe Awards as her date.
Along with her husband, Prince William, and his brother, Prince Harry, the Duchess of Cambridge set up a gift fund with the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry to encourage those who wanted to give them wedding gifts to donate to a charity that they support instead. In 2018, she became a patron of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and launched Nursing Now, a three-year campaign to empower nurses worldwide. As the daughter and granddaughter of volunteer nurses, Middleton has said that the campaign has a special place in her heart. This year, Middleton also launched Mentally Healthy Schools, a website aimed at improving the discussion around mental health in schools.
After she was appointed UN Women Goodwill ambassador in 2014, Watson delivered a viral speech at the United Nations headquarters on her new campaign, HeForShe, which calls for men to advocate for gender equality. In 2018, Watson brought Marai Lasai, a world-known activist against violence against women, to the 2018 Golden Globes. After signing up for the Green Carpet Challenge in 2015, in which she agreed that piece of clothing she wears on a red carpet is sustainable, Watson has been an advocate for sustainable fashion. Her Met Gala 2017 dress was made of recycled plastic bottles. In 2017, Watson created an Instagram account, the Press Tour, to document her sustainable outfits and encourage her fans to go green as well.
The former Spice Girl might be posh, but she's not above helping other people. In 2014, Beckham donated more than 600 items from her closet to raise money for mothers2mothers, an organized aimed at eliminating the transmission of HIV and AIDS from mothers to their unborn children. “I'm a mother, and I want to reach out and help as many women and mothers as I can. Babies should not be born with HIV," Beckham said in a speech at the UN.
Recently, the fashion designer traveled to Kenya for the Sports Relief–sponsored campaign #BoxGirls, a project aimed at promoting female empowerment. There, Beckham met dozens of teenage girls whom she boxed with and talked to, and she created a safe space for them to talk about their futures.
"The girls have got big. big dreams," she said in a video. "We've got future lawyers, doctors, future engineers, future artists, surgeons.... The girls have got big dreams, which is super nice to see."
Jolie's passion for philanthropy began in 2001 when she visited war-torn Cambodia to film "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider." Since then, the Oscar winner has been named a United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees ambassador for the dozens of field missions she went on to meet refugees in more than 30 countries, including Pakistan and Tanzania. Jolie is also a huge advocate for human rights and women's rights, joining the Council on Foreign Relations in 2007. In addition to launching the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative in 2012, with Foreign Secretary William Hague, Jolie also co-chaired a global summit to end sexual violence in conflict zones. In 2013, she won a Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her work.
In 2007, the singer donated $7 million to help the homelessness problem in Houston, her hometown. After that, she helped raise money for Nepal's earthquake in 2015 and assisted those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Last year, Bey went back to Texas to hand out food and help rebuild the lives of those affected by Hurricane Harvey. The effort, named BEYGood Houston, distributed necessities such as baby products, feminine goods, and wheelchairs to those in need and included charity concerts by her sister Solange to raise money.
Having grown up in poverty, Davis is passionate about ending hunger worldwide. In 2014, she collaborated with Hunger Is, a campaign dedicated to eradicating hunger among children in the United States. “Seventeen million kids in this country, so one in five kids in this country, go to bed hungry. I was one of those kids because I grew up in abject poverty; I did everything that you could possibly imagine to get food: I rummaged in the garbage cans, I stole from the local store constantly," Davis said in a video for Hunger Is.
In 2016, The "How to Get Away with Murder" actress also partnered with Vaseline's Healing Project campaign to provide dermatological care to people affected by poverty and emergencies around the world.
After becoming a vegetarian at 8 years old and a vegan in 2009, Portman has been a huge advocate for animal rights, launching her own vegan footwear line, Te Casan, in 2017. In 2011, the Oscar winner became an ambassador for Free the Children (now known as We Charity), where she helped fund raise and met children from all-girls schools in Kenya. Portman is also a vocal antipoverty and environmental activist, traveling to countries including Uganda and Ecuador to help finance woman-owned businesses and call for environmental change.
In 2016, Lady Gaga joined Joe Biden on the former vice president's It's On Us campaign, a tour of more than 530 colleges encouraging students to sign a pledge of solidarity and activism against sexual assault on campuses. The campaign received more than 250,000 signatures. Gaga has also been a vocal LGBTQ advocate, speaking at the 2009 National Equality March and urging the United States Armed Forces to pull its "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy.
In 1998, when he was 24 years old, the Oscar winner established the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, a nonprofit organization aimed at raising environmental awareness, with a focus on global warming, preserving the earth's biodiversity, and supporting renewable energy. DiCaprio has also been a vocal opponent of the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as of President Donald Trump's inaction on climate change. In 2017, the actor attended People's Climate March to voice his opinion against the president.
"Climate change is real, it is happening right now. It is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating," DiCaprio said during his 2016 Oscars speech. "We need to support leaders around the world who do not speak for the big polluters, but who speak for all of humanity, for the indigenous people of the world, for the billions and billions of underprivileged people out there who would be most affected by this. For our children’s children, and for those people out there whose voices have been drowned out by the politics of greed."