Culture

Best Celebrity Charities

Natalie Portman
Natalie Portman
Natalie Hershlag, born June 9, 1981, better known by her stage name Natalie Portman, is an actress with dual American and Israeli citizenship. In 1999, she enrolled at Harvard University to study psychology while still working as an actress. She completed her bachelor's degree in 2003. | Photo: Vanity Fair | Natalie Portman, Actress, Star Wars, Harvard, Israeli,

What celebrities are doing the most for the best causes.

I may be the one person in the world who doesn't care for Oprah. I usually keep this a secret, afraid that I may be tarred and feathered by an angry mob of devout Oprah fans. But I cannot be the only person who thinks the former queen of daytime television is a bit pompous about all her charity work. I mean, building schools and giving away money to the needy is nice and all, but how much of it is for the sake of doing it and how much of it is so she can be, well'Oprah?

And it's not just Oprah. According to LookToTheStars,org, there are at least 2,843 celebrities that are either linked to a cause or founders of their own charity. That is a lot of star power. But how should we feel about celebrities and their causes? Should we be suspicious of an ulterior motive? In 2010, Forbes.com ran an article called Celebrity Charities: Good for Image, But What About Good Works? Branding, it is claimed in the article, is one reason for a celebrity to attach his name to a foundation or good works of some sort. In fact, it is essential if the celebrity wants to build a brand out of himself. And it would be crazy not to brand oneself these days if one is to be a mega star.

So perhaps I am not so wrong in my opinion on Oprah. And think of the other stars who have entangled their images so completely with good works that they are basically untouchable, at least in certain communities: Rosie O'Donnell, George Clooney, Bono, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Magic Johnson, Matt Damon, and the list goes on and on and on. It's awfully hard to criticize someone who raises money to oppose genocide or wipe out poverty or educate people about AIDS.

The question is: Are celebrities who embrace charitable works, who dole out their money in charitable contributions, who found their own or become spokesmen for charities all good, or is that sneaking suspicion that maybe there is something in it for them relevant? I don't know that anyone could answer with certainty. But that same Forbes article suggested that charitable contributions equal tax breaks, and revealed that when a star has his own foundation the money can be used to his advantage, say reserved until the star needs some sort of a boost for a premier or saved for use when the star is losing some of that star power.

I have to admit, however, that some celebrities are way beyond the need of a "boost" from their charities. And it is not as if the charities aren't advanced from association with a star. Especially in the social media age where we can follow our favorite celeb on Facebook and Twitter; we are alerted to our favorite stars' causes and influenced to give. In The 30 Most Generous Celebrities, author Anderson Antunes makes this very point, saying that it is a cycle, whether good or bad, that the celebrity gets great PR from supporting a charity and the charity needs the celebrity to reach the masses and to get a little press.

And some stars are legitimately involved in changing the world at a very deep level. Some are so committed that they use their power to sway not only their everyday fans, but also the United States government and world leaders. In 2004, James Traub in The Celebrity Solution reported that Natalie Portman was shocked when she was granted a meeting with congress. She was the new ambassador for Finca, and she was their ticket to Capitol Hill. She asked why she was the one who had access to congress rather than the head of the foundation or the public who had elected their representatives, and the sad fact was that members of congress already "knew" her and were anxious to meet her because she is an actress. And other celebrities use their power in the same way'Traub also reminded us that Bono is versed in lobbying, and he took George Clooney with him to the 31st G-8 summit.

So perhaps stars and charities are neither entirely good nor entirely bad but necessary. After all, who else has the kind of sway to influence the public, the government, and the world? Maybe it doesn't matter that not all celebrities are in it for their fellowman but rather for self-promotion. It could be that we shouldn't care that celebrity charities are sometimes like the Kim Kardashian wedding: We don't know if we are to believe the charity work is for real, or if they are there simply to brand, promote, and use an otherwise sacred institution for ratings. It doesn't matter because stars reap positive results in a way that nothing else and possibly nobody else can.

And what does all of this say about humanity? What does it mean that we rely so heavily on our stars for moral guidance rather than our teachers, our parents, our peers? You be the judge. In the meantime, there are some celebrities who we should thank because they are doing the most for the best causes, and the betterment of mankind has never looked so good, and felt even better:

The Powerful
Don Cheadle
Don Cheadle

Donald Frank "Don" Cheadle, Jr.,born November 29, 1964, is an American film actor and producer. Cheadle rose to prominence in the late 1990s and the early 2000s for his supporting roles in the Steven Soderbergh-directed films Out of Sight, Traffic, and Ocean's Eleven. | Don Cheadle, Actor, Oceans Eleven, African American,

Natalie Portman: She is not only stunning but also intelligent. She is a Harvard graduate. That's right. I said Harvard. She works with many charities including FINCA, the Foundation for International Community Assistance. This organization provides microloans to women, and that leads to women who can support themselves and employee others, breaking the cycle of poverty. Most recently Portman participated in Lipstick for Charity where she teamed up with Dior to support Free the Children. This is a charity that provides money for education for girls in Kenya.

Don Cheadle: Cheadle isn't just one of those handsome men in all those Ocean movies. He along with George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, David Pressman, and Jerry Weintraub founded Not On Our Watch. This organization is all about giving voice to atrocities around the world. And does this group ever have the power to do just that. For all of those who do not have voices, these men lend theirs. Cheadle also was one of the authors of the book of the same name as the charity.

Ellen DeGeneres: Ellen is one of the most powerful women in America, according to Forbes Magazine, but perhaps what is really appealing about her is that feeling that one knows her personally because of her generous spirit. For example, one of my strongest memories of Ellen is her fundraising effort for Hurricane Katrina victims. Using her show as a platform, she raised over ten million dollars. This in and of itself is astounding but even more touching than how much she raised was the gratefulness that oozed from her with every donation, every check. It seemed to touch her personally. Since then she and Ben Affleck founded the Small Change Campaign to help stop hunger in America.

Bono: Where to begin? Bono is the pinnacle of celebrity giving combined with the power to influence others to also make a difference, both world leaders and loyal fans. On LookToTheStars.org, he is listed as supporting thirty-one different charities. From Live 8 to Millennium Villages to DATA, this man seems to never stop. And he is recognized by world leaders as a leader himself when it comes to philanthropy and charity work.

Brad Pitt: While a powerhouse by himself, Pitt recently organized a charity gala for his Make It Right Foundation that was attended by some pretty significant celebrities: Rihanna, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West, Sheryl Crow, Sean Penn, Kevin Spacey. Should I keep going? The point of getting all these heavy hitters together was to raise money to build 150 sustainable homes. Pitt dedicated himself to the victims of Hurricane Katrina and hasn't stopped trying to help since. The homes are for the Lower Ninth Ward, an area still in need.

The Passionate
Glenn Close
Glenn Close

Glenn Close, born March 19, 1947, has been nominated six times for an Oscar (five times throughout the 1980's), three times for a Grammy Award and once for a BAFTA Film Award, and has won three Tonys, an Obie, three Emmys, two Golden Globes, and a Screen Actors Guild Award. | Glenn Close, Actress, Icon,

Glenn Close: Close is a brave woman who has taken on thought-provoking roles; likewise, she is the founder of a charity that challenges public perception about mental illness. The foundation, Bring Change 2 Mind's, website reports that 1 in 6 people suffer from mental illness. The mission of Bring Change 2 Mind is to, as the name implies, change how the public perceives those who suffer from mental illness and to eradicate the stigma through outreach and education based on research.

Doris Day: Perhaps not on today's top list of celebrities, Day is still known for her charity work with animals. Her foundation, the Doris Day Animal League, has several projects one can donate to that are extremely relevant to our time, such as rescuing abandoned horses. Many people cannot afford to keep horses and the incidence of leaving horses to fend for themselves is on the rise. At the same time, designer dogs have come into fashion. Recently Day's foundation has teamed with the Humane Society to end puppy mills. And who in this day and age doesn't want puppy mills stopped?

John Legend: Through his Show Me Campaign, Legend calls on education to end the cycle of poverty. The effort to end poverty is both national and international. But on a national level the website for the Show Me Campaign reveals the necessity to focus on education in the United States, as 1/3 of children in America do not graduate due to failing schools. A unique twist to this charity is that not only is it about advocacy but it is hands-on for its founder. Legend visits many schools that were once failing and are now succeeding. He talks to the kids and the teachers and finds out what they are doing right.

Lady Gaga: Created in 2011 by Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, the Born This Way Foundation is all about acceptance. In fact, it is about building safe and loving communities where individuals are empowered to be who they are without fear of shame or harm. Supporters share their stories of bravery and what they think it will take to create a kinder world. Many of the supporters, who are also advocates, are youth who are encouraged to reach out to their friends and family. And thus the youth who participate are empowered to do something for themselves and then extend that opportunity to others.

John Bon Jovi: This is a guy who saw a problem and then started a foundation, the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation, to combat that problem. And what is the issue? Helping families stricken by poverty and homelessness find a way out of the cycle. Specifically the idea is that one person or soul can be helped at a time by providing affordable housing, social services, and job training programs.

Comment on Disqus

Comment on Facebook

Updated Apr 22, 2017 9:06 AM EDT | More details

AND Magazine AND MAGAZINE

©2017 AND Magazine, LLC
5 Columbus Circle, 8th Floor
New York, New York 10019 USA

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without express written permission from AND Magazine corporate offices. All rights reserved.