It’s no surprise celebrities have an impact on how the public sees the world. Whether it be subtle, out of place, sponsored ads posted on Instagram, or large political statements, the influence of actors, politicians, singers, and any other media personnel is increasing every day. In a world filled with “fake news,” Aura 32 decided to highlight a few of our favorite positive, social influencers.
When many think of Zendaya, her times as Rocky Blue on Disney’s Shake It Up are hardly remembered. That’s because of how far Zendaya has come not only as an actress, but also as an activist and social influencer.
In 2015, Zendaya sparked attention when she brought up the issue of photoshopping. On her Instagram, which currently has an astonishing 42.9 million followers, she wrote about her disapproval of Modeliste magazine’s choice to photoshop an image of her. As a comment on her Instagram post, Zendaya stated that photoshopping is a tool that “make[s] women self-conscious, that create the unrealistic ideals of beauty that we have.” The photo Zendaya posted was side-by-side images before and after retouching. Aura 32 can confidently say she looks absolutely gorgeous in the untouched version of the photo.
In that same year, the then 18-year-old sparked headlines when she defended herself and her choice to wear dreadlocks after E! Fashion Police’s former co-host, Giuliana Rancic accused Zendaya’s hair of potentially “smell[ing] like patchouli oil … or weed.” Once again taking to Instagram, Zendaya commented on the fact that Rancic’s comments were “not only a large stereotype but outrageously offensive.” She then went on to write that “My wearing of hair in locs on an Oscar red carpet was to showcase them in a positive light, to remind people of color that our hair is good enough.” It’s important everyone feels loved and appreciated in their own skin, and Zendaya did a great job at proving that.
Considering how much Zendaya has done at such a young age already, we can’t wait to see what more she has in store. She’s currently doing press for the movie, Spider-Man: Homecoming, which she is featured in alongside Tom Holland.
Wow, a nomination for Best Actress is great, but how is she a social influencer?, you may ask. Well, for starters, Benton is shining as an African American lead in an industry that predominantly casts Caucasian actors and actresses. According to the Asian American Performers Action Coalition’s (AAPAC) 2014-2015 season study, as seen on Playbill.com, “African-American actors were cast in 17 percent of all roles, Latino actors in 3 percent, Asian American actors in 9 percent and all other minorities (including disabled actors) comprised less than 1 percent when looking at both Broadway and the non-profit theatre companies. Caucasian actors filled 70 percent of all roles. Caucasians continue to be the only ethnicity to over-represent compared to their respective population size in the New York City/the tri-State area.” Speaking to Vogue, Benton commented on her role of Natasha, specifically considering she is an African American women. She stated, “My director and creator didn’t allow society’s standards to limit them for what they could see was possible; and because of that, I feel that it is just icing on the cake that I get to influence the conversation in some way and that little black girls can see themselves, and see that they can be pretty in dresses, they can be royalty, they can be loud, they can be soft, they can be fierce, they can be afraid, they can be all of these things.”
Benton also told the story of an impactful moment she had at the stage door after one performance. While talking with Stephen Colbert, she explained that a sixteen year old African American girl stated that “Denée was a princess up there; [the fan] didn’t know that we could be princesses.” Benton often wears her hair in her natural curls and constantly reminds audiences of the importance of representation. While her incredible skills as a performer speak for themselves, it’s no denying that while she is beyond beautiful, the roles she is often cast for are very limited due to preconceived pictures and stereotypes. In the AAPAC’s 2014-2015 season, “only 10.2 percent of all available roles were non-traditionally cast,” meaning, even if an actor’s essence and personality was perfect for the role, their appearance stood in the way of them rightfully earning the part. Benton is an amazing role model in every sense of the word. She truly deserves to be apart of Aura 32’s list of social influences. If you have the chance, book a plane ticket and rush over to the Imperial Theatre in New York. Denée Benton’s starring performance is not one to be missed.
Emma Watson first hit the big screen in 2001 during her portrayal as Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series. From the start, Watson portrayed a young who was not just acknowledged, but praised, for her brains. Now, Watson has used her celebrity status to advocate for gender rights.
Watson is an advocate, and founder, of HeForShe, an organization that supports gender equality. In 2014, she spoke at the United Nations Headquarters to support and launch this important cause. Her speech began by defining feminism as “The belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities. It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.” She then went into her reasons for identifying as a feminist, stating a number of important milestones and ages as a young woman and the impact relations between men and women had during these years. Watson continued by saying that, “I am from Britain [a well developed and advanced country] and [I] think it is right that as a woman I am paid the same as my male counterparts. I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body. I think it is right that women be involved on my behalf in the policies and decision-making of my country. I think it is right that socially I am afforded the same respect as men. But sadly I can say that there is no one country in the world where all women can expect to receive these rights.” Watson later added that the goals of HeForShe also extended beyond women. She went on the state, “Men—I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender equality is your issue too.”
The Brown University alumni, was appointed the title of UN Women Goodwill Ambassador in 2014. It was this platform that allowed her to launch HeForShe. Watson is an advocate for girl’s education in third world countries. In her efforts for equality, she visited Bangladesh and Zambia where she advocated for the equal education of females. She also served as an ambassador for Camfed International which looks to educate girls in rural parts of Africa. Watson has also aided in the fight to end poverty. According to Borgen Magazine, “In 2015, Watson raised over $2,000 for the Small Steps Project, an organization that aims to help communities living near refuse dumps, by donating high end shoes to an auction benefiting the cause. The non-profit provides emergency aid, food and shoes to protect and reduce the amount of direct contact people in these areas have with trash, a global situation that is often overlooked.”
At only 27-years-old, Emma Watson is already a force to be reckoned with. It’s truly extraordinary to see all she has done to support and bring awareness to important topics. Along with the other social influencers mentioned, it’ll be incredible to see what all these ladies have in store for the future.