In the words of music icon-turned-activist Bono, “Celebrity is ridiculous and silly but it is a currency, so I wanted to use mine effectively.” He did so by launching campaigns promoting vaccinations for Africa and debt relief to Pakistan and Haiti. As the front-runner of U2, Bono receives the support of world leaders for the same reason as when images from refugee camps make headlines whenever Angelina Jolie visits them: one’s A-list celebrity status.
Celebrities may have ulterior motives like improving their public relations image or receiving payment for campaigning, but many of them are genuinely passionate about their causes and remain active fundraisers. In Pakistan, local celebrities have begun to extend their public personas towards eliminating widespread ignorance and societal taboos.
The ‘C’ Word
According to Dr Faisal Sultan, CEO of Shaukat Khanum Memorial Cancer Hospital and Research Centre, “Societal taboos about cancer are common and the only way we can overcome them is by talking about them in the public sphere. There is inherent shyness in talking about some cancers, like breast and testicular, and celebrities can play an important role in bringing that dialogue in to the open.” As the hospital’s founder, Imran Khan lends his celebrity status to philanthropic activities that have included participation from Princess Diana, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Elizabeth Hurley and various Bollywood and Lollywood personalities- Nadeem Baig is their current spokesperson for cancer awareness.
More women die of breast cancer in Pakistan than anywhere in the world because it is frequently diagnosed at an advanced stage. Dr Jo Anne Zujewski, (Head of Breast Cancer Therapeutics at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland) has said that early detection could reduce mortality rates in Pakistan.
Meanwhile, recent celebrity efforts have included Faryal Gohar’s Public Service Announcement for breast cancer awareness and Garnier’s sponsored workshops and seminars with Shaukat Khanum featuring their brand ambassador, Juggan Kazim.
Fighters aren’t to be pitied
Survival stories of well-known personalities continue to inspire confidence. Actor Christina Applegate, who battled breast cancer with a double mastectomy — the medical term for the surgical removal of the breasts — went on to win an Emmy award and founded her Right Action For Women foundation to provide charity MRI screenings for breast cancer detection.
Actor Fran Drescher survived uterine cancer and founded the Cancer Schmancer organisation for women “so that they don’tremain helpless bystanders”. Cyclist Lance Armstrong, a testicular cancer survivor, famously went on to win the Tour de France seven times and founded the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
Activism is growing increasingly inventive as artists seek new ways to promote causes. Musician Abrarul Haq founded the Sahara for Life Trust to improve health and educational facilities in remote areas. Celine Dion, who lost her niece to the condition, is the celebrity patron of Cystic Fibrosis Canada and performs benefit concerts, films and makes regular donations. Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher recently featured actors including Sean Penn, Eva Longoria and Bradley Cooper in their Real Men Don’t Buy Girls organisation, which speaks about child sex slavery. Moore and Kutcher concentrated on social media because, according to Kutcher, “Seventy six per cent of the transactions for child sex slavery are actually happening online.”
Ryan Reynolds has promoted the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s research and awareness by running marathons. American journalist Maria Shriver, whose father was diagnosed with the condition, produced the HBO documentary, The Alzheimer’s Project, as well as a report. The Nargis Dutt Memorial Charitable Trust promoted the docu-drama film 1 a Minute, (referring to the worldwide cancer mortality rate) featuring interviews of celebrity cancer survivors including Olivia Newton John, Melissa Etheridge, Lisa Ray, Mumtaz and Barbara Mori. Survivor Kylie Minogue spearheaded the ‘Fashion Targets Breast Cancer’ campaign featuring print ads and fashion items.
Other major international events have included ‘Live Earth’, ‘Hope For Haiti’ and ‘Fashion Rocks’. To benefit the current famine in Somalia, the cause is being endorsed on social networks by celebrities including Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Madonna, Eminem, Muhammad Ali and Justin Bieber.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2011.