As expected, pop icon Madonna  met with backlash following her speech on January 21 at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. when she said she had “thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House” because she was outraged that the 45th president of the United States is a man who is not subtle about his misogyny, racism, and bigotry, amongst other characteristics. A former US Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich even called her a member of an “emerging left-wing fascism” and suggested that she be arrested.

Although she has since come out to clarify her statement, and we love her for that, it was hardly necessary. Some of us who stood in physical and spiritual solidarity with the rally understood that Madonna was simply expressing her disappointment at what seems like several steps backwards in the fight for social freedom, liberation, civil rights, and equality, and not a literal call for the demolition of the White House. Then again, this is the bulk of the cross that Madonna and celebrities in general carry – their fame makes them accountable for their words and deeds, even more so to people who don’t know them. But at least, they understand that their fame turns their voices into a powerful weapon. And they use it when it counts.

While ‘some of us’ lauded the courage of these famous women and men from our homes, it is gutting that our celebrities closer to home are yet to understand that they armed with this same weapon, whether they believe it or not, and should perhaps use it more often. Now, this is neither a lamentation nor an accusation. It’s just the observation of a prevalently understated issue in the Nigerian entertainment scene which is the unemployment of popular and powerful [celebrity] voices to address socioeconomic issues and push more determinedly for a change in the status quo.

Madonna, a superstar, and about 90 of her equally famous colleagues, including Ashley Judd, Alicia Keys, Scarlett Johansson, America Ferrera, Michael Moore, Yoko Ono, Paul Rudd, Lupita Nyong’o, Charlize Theron, Mark Ruffalo, and Cher, joined feminists, activists, and Americans on the streets that day in a powerful rally that was replicated in different parts of the globe. As a matter of fact, the Artists Table which sat the most recognisable faces in Hollywood was integral in organising the Women’s March.

It must be noted that the Women’s March set out, not only to protest against the results of the last US elections, but to reiterate the fact that said result posed a physical and sociological threat to Planned Parenthood, health and reproductive rights, women’s rights, human rights, LGBTQ rights, religious rights, among other such issues.

With the exception of the institution that is Planned Parenthood, none of the other subjects are alien to Nigerians. Every now and then we see a tweet or an Instagram post about a celebrity advocating for feminism or equal representation, or complaining about the sociopolitical state of things in the country. So we know that it’s not that they don’t think about these things, understand them, or even experience them on a personal level. Thus, we must understand that remaining silent in the way that is commonplace now is a deterrent to a potentially huge leap forward for our society.

I don’t mean that Nigerian celebrities who are gay for example must necessarily come out of the closet to prove that our perception of LGBTQ people needs to start changing, but whether or not you are, don’t be silent when such people are being discriminated against. And even if you or someone you know almost lost their life because of an unsafe abortion, don’t tell us, just think of how you can use your voice to make sure it doesn’t happen to someone else. If you feel religious and ethnic intolerance is holding us back as a country, set your beliefs aside and address it.

Children aren’t getting the best education they can get, or they go to school hungry? Well, what are we doing about that? Also, you probably don’t have to be politically inclined or aligned to see that when a politician leaves office every four or eight years, the socioeconomic conditions in almost any given community never quite improve. The Bring Back Our Girls Movement? It could shift from being a ‘political thing’ to a ‘real thing’ if celebrities say so. Much more if they do same.

Madonna, Ashley Judd, and the rest of the celebrities that turned up for Women’s March could provoke and influence people because they’ve learned to take advantage of the respect and attention their fame provides, and because they understand what’s at stake.

Our celebrities need to move beyond a place where they believe they’re literally just there to be seen and move to one where they use the opportunity to speak words that can be actionable when we all come together. You know, just one of those fights for humanity as a whole.

“Sometimes, we must put our bodies where our beliefs are.” – Gloria Steinem, Women’s March in Washington D.C.

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