Mehwish Hayat pens powerful op-ed on celebrity activism for CNN

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Mehwish Hayat and Priyanka Chopra – the two women who dominated headlines this week. While one stuck to her nationalistic stance and shut down a woman for asking her a challenging question, the other spoke about the importance of using cinema to spread peace and break stereotypes. No points for guessing who said what.

Mehwish Hayat with her positivity and message of humanity and peace wons hearts in Pakistan and across the world. The actor has now penned a powerful op-ed for CNN in which she reiterated her stance and spoke on the importance of celebrity activism in light of Priyanka’s irresponsible remarks.

“Chopra’s response to her questioner in LA, as well as the February tweet, did have the effect of both shining a light on the crisis in Kashmir (despite India’s media blackout and food blockade there), and forcing many of us to think about celebrity activism, its uses — and its abuses.” Mehwish wrote. “Celebrities who act as charity spokespeople should always focus on humanitarianism. Chopra — again, a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador — should not be using her voice to legitimise a regime opposed to the values she claims to represent.

Writing further Mehwish said, “Celebrity activism often escapes the kind of scrutiny most political activism is subjected to. It is often seen as either positive or pointless — but rarely dangerous.”

Comparing celebrity activism in Hollywood and Bollywood, Mehwish said that the latter “has too often been used to fuel hate and Islamophobia.” She wrote that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “alarmed by Hollywood’s open opposition to his ally Donald Trump, has arguably co-opted and weaponised the country’s film industry.”

“Islamophobia is a top-down industry in India: at the top, hyper-nationalist films, songs and slogans teach the masses to hate. At the grassroots, Muslims have been killed for so-called “crimes,” such as eating beef,” she added.

Criticising Priyanka, Mehwish further said, “This makes Chopra’s mistakes potentially all the more costly. Rather than use her position as a US-based celebrity to broaden what it means to be an Indian celebrity, she has fallen into the same jingoistic role that her fellow countrymen are forced to adopt at home.”

Mehwish said that Priyanka’s comments do more damage than can be handled and because of such comments actors are silenced into just being mere entertainers despite having the influence to make a difference.

Bringing in her own narrative, Mehwish wrote, “My intention when speaking about women’s rights, girls’ education, or supporting humanitarian charity work is to unite people — not divide them. The only way to do this is to avoid the path of least resistance — populist rhetoric — and focus on the universal humanitarian causes that all sides can agree on.

“This where Priyanka Chopra and others have made a mistake: by lending their name to racism dressed up as patriotism, they have done us all a disservice.”

“Some issues are too important to play politics with,” she asserted.

Mehwish concluded her opinion piece saying, “It is human suffering that those with a platform must focus on. It also falls on other film industries, including my own in Pakistan, to counter the negative stereotypes pumped out in Bollywood.”

“That might be less lucrative or effortless than the alternative, but it is what humanity needs to see – on screen, and on the streets. It is something I would love to work with my Indian colleagues on — including Priyanka Chopra.”

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