It has been a rough hurricane season for the United States. Unfortunately, the government response to these devastating hurricanes has been less than satisfactory, leaving countless citizens wondering who will help them. Turns out it might be… celebrities?
Celebrities have a long history of using their talents and resources to assist in various humanitarian efforts, perhaps most famously with the original release and remake of “We Are the World.”
The devastation in Puerto Rico seems to have taken this call to action to another level, with celebrities like Pitbull and reality star and entrepreneur Bethenny Frankel sending private jets full of supplies to the island and bringing the planes back to the mainland full of cancer patients and others in dire need of medical attention. Countless more celebrities have donated money, some even upwards of $1 million each.
Puerto Rican playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda, famous for his musicals In the Heights and Hamilton, evoked a “We Are the World” type of feeling with his all-Spanish lyric hurricane relief fundraising single, “Almost Like Praying.” The only English lines are a nod to West Side Story, including the title—the lines originally refer to West Side Story’s main character, Maria. (See the connection?) The remainder of the song is sung by a star-studded group of Latinx artists like Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Camila Cabello, Gina Rodriguez, Rita Moreno, and Luis Fonsi (known for the song “Despacito,” which I recently discussed in regards to Justin Bieber’s remix and subsequent butchering).
Even the Knowles-Carter family is getting in on the action. Jay-Z’s music streaming site, Tidal, will be donating the proceeds from their third annual benefit concert to the victims of Hurricane Harvey, Irma, Maria, and the Mexico earthquake. Meanwhile, Beyoncé recently was featured on a remix of J. Balvin and Willy William’s song, “Mi Gente,” and sings in both English and Spanish on the track. When she released the song, she announced that she would be donating her proceeds to hurricane and earthquake relief efforts as well. (THAT’S how you gracefully do a cross-cultural song, Justin.)
I must say that it feels a bit dystopian to watch paper towels be thrown into a crowd of hurricane victims by our government (I tried so hard not to be political this whole time, I’ll sit down again) while celebrities roll up their sleeves to do the job no one else seems to want to do. Pitbull shouldn’t get to us faster than FEMA.
Even more disturbing is discovering through the devastation in Puerto Rico just how many U.S. citizens and government officials forgot that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory. This is not the same as when Haiti went through their devastating earthquake (though they are and were equally deserving of help). It is our duty to help Puerto Rico just as much as it is to help Texas and Florida. It’s not just something we should do. We have to. While we’re at it, of course we should help the other islands affected by Maria. We should also help Mexico. But it’s astounding to see so many citizens heartbroken by Harvey and Irma but indifferent to Maria, as if the cleanup for Maria should be someone else’s job. Geography makes a big difference.
I won’t try to reach for shaky explanations of what I think is at least partially racially motivated indifference, because it’s too hard to tell. But I will say that seeing not only the Latinx celebrity community but also stars who have no personal ties to the island come together to help Puerto Rico is a sight for sore eyes. I’m liking this trend of social responsibility that seems to be prevalent in Hollywood at the moment. Next time I’m in trouble, I might just skip the red tape and call Beyonce.
What do you think? What is the role of celebrities in humanitarian aid? Should they be expected to help, or is it just nice if they do?