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Read & share our 75th newsletter on  celebrity humanitarianism + celebrity memoir (below)

Aid Celebrities and the Tropes of Celebrity Humanitarianism - Dan Brockington, Lisa Ann Richey & Maha Rafi Atal:


"George Clooney is sad. What might an Oscar winning multi-millionaire have to be sad about, you ask? He’s “surprised and saddened” he says, to learn that Nespresso, the coffee brand for whom he has been a public spokesman since 2006, uses child labor at its plantations in Guatemala. That is particularly embarrassing for Clooney, whose brand endorsement has included advocating for Nespresso’s sustainability policies and sitting on its sustainability board.

Clooney assures the reporters who uncovered these violations that he welcomes the investigative scrutiny, and that the offending plantations will be immediately removed from the Nespresso supply chain until the problem can be solved.

This is not Clooney’s first brush with global humanitarian problems, nor the first time the projects he takes on have fallen short of their professed ideals. In the mid-2000s, he became the leading celebrity face of Save Darfur, the Enough Project, and other campaigns aimed at raising awareness first about atrocities committed by the Omar al-Bashir government in Sudan’s civil war, and later about similar atrocities in other African countries. These information-gathering and dissemination ventures have raised significant funds, paired Clooney with many celebrity friends from Matt Damon to Don Cheadle, and faced sustained criticism from regional experts for simplistic solutions that brushed aside the actual politics and history of African countries.

This type of advocacy, we argue in a recent research article, is typical of Aid Celebrities, a particular type of famous humanitarian for whom difficult problems are the result of a lack of resources and expertise. Sudanese generals and Guatemalan plantation owners, this view holds, can be made to change their ways if better technology, paid for by extensive fundraising, is used to expose what is going wrong. This approach, which is equally apparent in the work of aid “experts” like Jeffrey Sachs and Muhammad Yunus, draws attention away from the political problems that are the real roots of humanitarian crisis.

Aid Celebrities, we argue, are just one of six common types of celebrity humanitarians, each with their own way of thinking about what the “problem” is and how they can be the solution. The others include:

  • Global Mothers, like Angelina Jolie and Audrey Hepburn, for whom the solution is “love.” These white women embody hope by foregrounding their own beauty and their feelings and taking up causes that emphasize support for children.
  • Strong Men Doing Good, like Sean Penn and Ben Affleck, for whom the solution is power, as an extensive of their own masculine identities blazing through problems with little concern for listening, stock-taking or collaboration, which are cast as feminine.
  • Diplomats, like Pu Cuxin and Danny Kaye, for whom the solution is institutions. The most common, but often least radical, form of celebrity humanitarian, these figures work as representatives inside formal political institutions.
  • Entrepreneurs, like Sophie Ndaba, for whom the solution is money, promoting their own business successes as justification for giving back to the community.
  • Afropolitians, like Hella Joof or Teju Cole, for whom the solution is awareness. These celebrities walk a difficult tightrope raising awareness about racial injustice without drawing attention to their own “raced” status as members of oppressed minorities.

What value is there in breaking down these different celebrity types? In our research, we find that the different types of advocacy they undertake and the way they frame the “problem” and “solution” have much more to do with the audiences these celebrities hope to reach in the Global North than with the communities in the Global South who are supposed to benefit from humanitarian aid.

Celebrities, after all, are performers, and the audiences for their performances are ultimately global elites. These audiences want to see celebrity humanitarians as authentic, taking advantage of their identity as mothers or macho men or entrepreneurs, to increase their credibility with donors and fans. This is common in humanitarianism, which is rarely downwardly accountable to the people receiving support, and more normally upwardly accountable to investors and donors.

Our point is not that celebrity humanitarianism is somehow inauthentic, or that more authentic celebrity humanitarianism should be more powerful. Rather, problems arise from the lack of accountability, or the mechanisms by which accountability is diverted and distorted. Celebrities are oligarchs in the attention economy. Whether they are from the North or South, celebrity humanitarians usurp the power of voice—of who gets to call out a problem and who should solve it. They all draw attention away from the structural causes of inequalities and the outrage and obscenity of crises.

The result, we argue, is that celebrity humanitarianism, rather than “helping” communities in the Global South, tends to reproduce the same hierarchies and inequalities between the Global North and South that are themselves drivers of humanitarian harm. Celebrity humanitarianism is a way of doing ‘politics as usual’ which prioritizes rich special interests, corporate lobbyists and elite networks. It can be convenient, it can ‘work’ in its own terms. But the limited range of celebrity humanitarian tropes can offer audiences comfortable lies when what humanitarianism needs is local knowledge, inconvenient facts and diverse effective responses.

Celebrities require critical attention to how they reflect and distort social relations, lines of accountability and political priorities. From Ebola to landmines and from accountability to racism, you can learn more about celebrity humanitarianism, advocacy and development and how to teach about these topics in the classroom using the resources on this website."

By Maha Rafi AtalLisa Ann Richey & Dan Brockington


Celebrity Memoir (2020) - Hannah Yelin

To celebrate the publication of Hannah Yelin's new book, the Celebrity Culture Club presents:

Celebrity Memoir: from Ghostwriting to Gender Politics

Online panel discussion and Q&A, 2nd October 2020, 2pm.

Join via Google meet:

Surveying the memoirs of female celebrities en masse reveals a culture that requires women to be constantly ‘baring all’ in physical exposure and psychic confessions. As famous women tell their story, in their ‘own words’, constellations of ghostwriters, intermediaries and market forces undermine assertions of authorship and access to the ‘real’ woman behind the public image. In this panel discussion to launch Hannah Yelin’s new book, we'll see how her account of the presence of the ghostwriter offers a fascinating microcosm of the wider celebrity machine, with something to tell us about all celebrity mediation and the economics of access that surround contemporary female celebrity.


  • Nels Abbey (media executive and author of Think Like a White Man)
  • Dr Oline Eaton (Professor in Lifewriting, Howard University, Washington DC)
  • Dr Ellen Wright (Senior Lecturer in Cinema and Television History, De Montfort University)
  • Dr Hannah Yelin (Senior Lecturer in Media and Culture, Oxford Brookes).
Preorder the book for your university library here:

Tickets available here:

The Celebrity Culture Club brings together academics, those working in what can broadly be called 'the creative and media industries', and interested members of the public, to discuss the important questions of the day in relation to celebrity culture.

Upcoming Publications

Stay tuned for our next publications. The edited collection based on best papers from our Lisbon conference will be released end of this year. Meanwhile, CMCS board member Kiera Obbard and CMCS NYC conference committee member Sabrina Moro are continuing to develop special journal issues for the Journal of Applied Journalism and Media Studies and Journal of Fandom Studies (Intellect Books), for which we are proud and excited. 

For more updates in celebrity studies and media, visit our TwitterFacebook, and Instagram. If you have research or media updates to share with our 3500+ CMCS members, tag us on Twitter – we would love to hear from you!

Stay safe,

Samita Nandy @famecritic
Dir., Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies @celeb_studies

Acknowledgments for CMCS newsletter and social media:




Celebrity Studies 

Becoming Brands: Celebrity, Activism 
and Politics

Building Bridges in Celebrity Studies 

Celebrity & The Media

A Companion to Celebrity

Persona Studies: An Introduction

Personas and Places

Fame in Hollywood North 

Popular Culture & the Intellectual

Bridging Gaps: Higher Education, Media and Society


Teaching Compassion

Media Experts

Prof. P. David Marshall

Dr Anita Krajnc
Dr Louis Massey 
Dr Samita Nandy
Dr. Basuli Deb

Dr Jackie Raphael 

Dr Celia Lam 
Dr Ian Dixon
Dr Jacque L. Foltyn
 Douglas Machado
Dr Mira Moshe
 Hilary Wheaton
Shannon Skinner

Sutikshya Mallick

Founder & Director

 Samita Nandy 

Advisory Board

Dr Anita Krajnc
Dr Samita Nandy
Dr Jackie Raphael 
Dr Celia Lam
Dr William Huddy
Dr Frank Wilson
Dr Nicole Bojko
Dr Basuli Deb
Dr Hilary Wheaton
Dr Mira Moshe
Dr Yaya Mori

Editorial Board

Dr Robert Caine
Dr Hilary Wheaton
Dr Jarret Ruminski
Dr Will Visconti 

Kiera Obbard
Georgia Hertz
Christine Bode
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Centre for Media and Celebrity Studies (CMCS)
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