Hollywood actress and humanitarian Angelina Jolie, also a longstanding special envoy for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), has voiced strong criticism of Israel for its military actions in Gaza. Her comments, particularly highlighting the human toll and calling Gaza “an open-air prison for nearly two decades,” signal an increasing frustration of people, including artists and celebrities with the ongoing horrendous siege and bombardment of Gaza.
In a statement posted on Instagram, Jolie condemned what she described as “the deliberate bombing of a trapped population” in the densely populated Palestinian enclave, fearing it was "becoming a mass grave." She accused global leaders of "complicity in these crimes" for their silence and demanded a humanitarian ceasefire. This follows the Israel army's massive bombardment of Jabalia refugee camp, causing significant casualties and displacement of up to 1000 Palestinians. After an attach by Hamas on October 7, Israel declared war and began striking Gaza, killing more than 9,000 Palestinians, including more than 3,000 children.
Nearly 250 celebrities, including Ben Affleck, Gigi Hadid, Jessica Chastain, and Drake, as part of Artists4Ceasefire, signed a letter to President Biden calling for a cease-fire in the Israel’s carpet bombing of Gaza. The letter emphasises the group's united stance as artists and advocates deeply affected by the loss of lives in both Israel and Palestine. Highlighting the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza, the letter stresses the U.S. government's crucial diplomatic role in ending the suffering and upholding compassion and international law. The group, which includes several Oscar and Grammy winners, articulates a strong desire to prevent further bloodshed and vows not to remain silent on the ongoing crisis. American actress and singer Zendaya took to her official Instagram account to show solidarity with the Palestinians in Gaza
Jolie’s open criticism of Israel aligns her with other celebrities who have previously faced serious professional and personal consequences for similar positions.
Roger Waters, The Pink Floyd co-founder, recognised for his staunch criticism of Israeli policies and his support for the BDS movement, has faced numerous efforts to discredit him and harm his career due to his views. ”The Israeli government sees me as an existential threat to their settler colonialist racist apartheid regime and they've done everything that they can think of to discredit me and try and destroy my career and if possible destroy me and my family.” Waters says in a video released online.
”This whole story for me didn't start till 2006 when I went to Palestine. I saw apartheid in action.” Waters continues. ”I saw them and it's inconsolable the way they treat them [Palestinians] and they kill them; they just openly kill them; they shoot them all the time. Dead! And they bomb them dead, and so I've been doing everything that I possibly can to expose that bit and I will continue to do so.”
Taking stands in support of Palestinian human rights could specially have grave consequences for celebrities or artists working in Hollywood due to considerable ownership and control of the film industry by jewish owned companies and organisations often supportive of Israel.
In his book "An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood,” Neal Gablerwhich explores the founding and establishment of the American film industry by Jewish immigrants in the early 20th century, the fundamental effect it has had on the American society and the legacy continuing until today.
Marlon Brando one of the greatest actors and supporter of indigenous people, faced backlash not for comments about Palestine or Zionism, but rather for his 1996 interview on "Larry King Live" where he made statements about Hollywood being "run by Jews." These comments were widely criticised as being anti-Semitic. Brando was forced to apologise. His carrier effectively ended and he moved out of the US.
Vanessa Redgrave, known for her advocacy for Palestinian rights, faced career challenges and intense public criticism following her 1977 Oscar acceptance speech, She already received fierce criticism in the mid-1970s, when she narrated and helped fund a documentary called "The Palestinian," which sympathised with the Palestinian cause. The controversy escalated when Redgrave was nominated for an Oscar for her role in "Julia," a film about anti-Nazi activism. In her acceptance speech, she condemned what she termed "Zionist hoodlums" who had protested against her nomination and involvement in the documentary. This statement was met with immediate backlash. Following her Oscar speech, Redgrave's career faced noticeable difficulties. She was already known for her political views, but her explicit condemnation of "Zionist hoodlums" on such a public stage alienated powerful people in Hollywood.
Her appearance at events or in productions sometimes led to protests or boycotts. Notably, in 1978, members of the Jewish Defence League burned effigies of Redgrave and picketed theatres showing films in which she appeared. This animosity toward Redgrave within certain circles of the entertainment industry and among parts of the American public suggested a tangible impact on her career opportunities and public image.
Other celebrities such as Mark Ruffalo, Bella Hadid, and Rihanna have faced varying degrees of backlash for their comments or actions perceived as critical of Israel or supportive of Palestinian causes.
Several Hollywood celebrities have also spoken in support of Israel, including Jamie Lee Curtis, Natalie Portman, Justin Bieber, Liev Schreiber, Debra Messing and Amy Schumer.
Jolie’s status as a high-profile celebrity and UN envoy might offer her some shield against the full brunt of such backlash, but history shows that even the most celebrated figures are not immune to public and industry censure for their political stances. Her critique of the actions in Gaza and the consequent loss of civilian lives, especially children, adds her voice to a contentious global discourse.