Celebrity Endorsements – Supporting Failing and Abusive Regimes
17 July 2023
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By Ruzvidzo Chinyanganya
It’s no secret that celebrities have a lot of influence and power. Fame and fortune can be used to support causes, raise awareness about important issues, and inspire millions. However, they have a responsibility to use their platform wisely. It’s sad that some celebrities support oppressive and abusive regimes instead of standing up for human rights.
The retired American boxer Floyd Mayweather, who has an undefeated record and a lavish lifestyle, is one example. In July 2023, Mayweather is going to Zimbabwe and South Africa as part of his “Motherland Tour”. According to him, he wants to invest in Africa and promote boxing there. Wearing the Zimbabwean flag colours, he called it his “motherland”.
However, many people have questioned Mayweather’s motives. Zimbabwe is currently run by ZANU PF, which has been accused of rigging elections, violating human rights, cracking down on dissent, and mismanaging the economy. There’s a severe crisis of poverty, hunger, inflation, corruption, and violence in the country. Mayweather’s visit is reportedly sponsored by Scott Sakupwanya, a gold dealer and ZANU PF politician. In Zimbabwe, Sakupwanya has been involved in illegal gold mining and smuggling activities that have caused environmental damage.
Mayweather is allegedly being paid to endorse ZANU PF and boost its image ahead of 2023 elections. Their argument is that Mayweather only cares about making money for himself, not helping Zimbabwe or Africa. In addition, Mayweather has a history of domestic violence and tax evasion, so he’s not a good role model. For instance, in 2015, Mayweather pleaded guilty to a misdemeanour battery charge for attacking his ex-girlfriend in front of two of their children. This has led many to question why ZANU PF would choose someone with such a controversial background to promote its image. Furthermore, it has caused some to feel that ZANU PF does not take Zimbabweans’ welfare seriously.
It shows a disregard for the well-being of people affected by failing regimes like Zimbabwe when Mayweather accepts money to promote them. His indirect support of oppressive systems exacerbates vulnerable people’s suffering. As a result, he becomes complicit in the human rights abuses these regimes commit. By putting personal gain over morals, he sends a troubling message.
Celebrities like Mayweather aren’t the only ones who support controversial regimes. A lot of celebrities have faced backlash in the past for performing for or meeting with leaders like Muammar Gaddafi, Alexander LukaNursultan Nazarbayev, Kim Jong-un, and others who have been accused of human rights abuses and corruption, like Mariah Carey, Jennifer Lopez, Beyoncé, Kanye West, Lionel Messi, and Dennis Rodman.
Each of these celebrities may have a different reason for acting like they do. There are some who claim ignorance or innocence. They may argue they’re not political or they’re trying to build bridges. There are some who are just motivated by money or fame. No one can justify a regime that oppresses or exploits its own people for any of these reasons.
It can have long-lasting effects on a celebrity’s reputation if they endorse a failing regime. For instance, in 2019, singer Rihanna faced backlash for partnering with a Saudi-funded sports streaming service, which was perceived to support the country’s oppressive policies. Many fans accused her of turning a blind eye to regime human rights violations. The ethical implications of what we buy are becoming more and more relevant to consumers. Whenever celebrities align themselves with a regime known for its failings and abuses, they risk alienating their fans and losing their trust. Creating a dissonance between their image and reality makes them look untrustworthy.
It’s not cool for celebrities to support regimes that don’t respect human rights and democracy. They shouldn’t ignore or normalize the suffering and injustice these regimes inflict on their people. Whitewashing or legitimizing the crimes of these regimes isn’t okay. Fans and followers look up to them for advice and inspiration, so they shouldn’t betray them.
Celebrities should use their power and influence for good. For instance, in 2020, Ariana Grande used her platform to support a petition to demand justice for Breonna Taylor, a Black woman who was killed by police officers in her home. Support causes that promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity. It’s their job to speak out against tyranny, corruption, violence, and exploitation. Solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized is important. It’s important that they make ethical choices and act ethically.