Paris Jackson is using her platform to illuminate the struggles of the unheard voices across the world.
Legacies are notoriously difficult to shake off, especially when they’re handed down and inherited, instead of being earned and accumulated. What pieces of that legacy do you grab hold of and, like a mound of wet clay, remold into something that is wholly your own?
These are questions that actor & activist Paris Jackson has spent the last few years answering. Not by intentionally rebellious or overtly seeking attention, but with a life dedicated to the service of others.
Now 20, with a blossoming film career on the horizon, Paris has started to craft an attainable vision for her life, one that mimics the giving nature of two of her most impactful influences. Over the past few years, she’s become a staunch activist for the human rights advocate and an outspoken environmentalist.
After losing her legendary father, Michael, and her ineffable godmother, Elizabeth Taylor, within a short but frantic two-year span, it seemed like the paparazzi (and the press) had a vested interest, and a certain complicity, in Paris’ struggle to find herself. From inconceivable car chases in Hollywood to slanderous tales in grocery store tabloids, Paris faced the kind of scrutiny that has broken many an adult star.
And at the peak of the mayhem, she was merely 13.
Where many adults would (and have, very publicly) broken under such scrutiny, Paris took the time to retreat and take cover. Something like a gemstone under pressure, she’s re-emerged on the scene as more than a socialite. She’s stepped back out publicly, ready to carve out a career as a serious actor, but more importantly, as an activist for human rights, animal rights, and for unheard POC and queer voices across the world.
Whilst Paris endured some of the worst of the tabloid’s fanatic ways, it’s impossible to ignore that as a Jackson, and a child of Hollywood, her life has come with access, privilege, and visibility that many young people can only conjure up in their imaginations. In the politically charged world in which we live, that kind of special privilege comes with a heap of responsibility as well.
Paris hasn’t taken that responsibility lightly, using high profile and high visibility moments to speak for important causes or movements, instead of plugging her latest creative venture. In February 2017, as she introduced ‘The Weeknd’ at the televised Grammy’s ceremony to much applause, she said, “We could really use this kind of excitement at a pipeline protest, guys,” with little to no irony. “Hashtag NoDAPL,” she continued. Later that year, she added a ‘Standing Rock’ tattoo to her ink collection.
Later that summer, whilst presenting the evening’s first prize at the MTV Video Music Awards, she took the opportunity to address the deadly collision of protestors and white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA.
“You know, if we were to all put our voices together, do you realize the difference we would make?” she asked of her audience.
“We must show these Nazi white supremacist jerks in Charlottesville and all over the country that as a nation with liberty as our slogan, we have zero tolerance for their violence, their hatred, and their discrimination. We must resist.”
Resistance has been key to Paris’ life, fighting against media infiltration of her personal space since birth, so it’s no surprise that it’s been absolutely integral to her work as an activist, standing up to blatant attempts by the current presidential administration to curtail the rights of women and people of color over the last three years. From taking jabs at the current president in speeches to using her social media platforms to speak out against his policies, Paris has not shied away from making her feminist and humanist views known.
As a queer woman of color, speaking truth to power is incredibly important. Paris’ platform and visibility have allowed her to be heard in ways people who look (and love) like her have historically been unable to. But Paris has done more than talk. She’s taken direct, hands-on action.
She’s been attending marches for movements and causes she believes in, like the 2018 Women’s March in Los Angeles. She’s starred in a global print campaign for the ‘Our Fish’ organization, which fights to end overfishing. She’s travelled to a decimated Puerto Rico to deliver and distribute much needed supplies to communities still struggling in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
Paris is also starting to walk directly in the humanitarian footsteps of her godmother, as an ambassador for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF). Last year she took a trip to Malawi with the ETAF to witness how the disease can have generational effects on communities. ETAF has been impactful in reversing some of the deadly trends in AIDS/HIV diagnoses in recent years, working with the United Nations to increase education and prevention.
But what the ETAF does for communities across the ocean is just as important as its domestic affairs. As sex education gets cut from American school curriculums, and funding for HIV research sinks, a dedication to AIDS research is more pressing than ever. Paris made her commitment to that very fight known while speaking at Global Citizens Live in September 2017, where she stood next to Luxembourg’s openly gay Prime Minister, Xavier Bettel, conjuring up the same energy to fight, that propelled Elizabeth Taylor to take action in the ’80s and ’90s as the Regan administration stayed mum on the disease.
“She wasn’t going to let this crisis run wild as it directly impacted her friends & loved ones, those the administration considered discardable,” Paris said of her late godmother to a packed audience.
“Here we are decades later, living under a president… [who] proposes slashing healthcare funding for HIV and AIDS worldwide… But listen… I’ve got real news for him. None of us were discardable in 1987, and none of us are discardable now.”
As she continues to cultivate her acting career, with three film roles under her belt for 2018 alone, philanthropy has been a way to keep perspective, to stay grounded. It’s been a way to lay to rest ghost’s of old, to honor the spirits that have helped forge her present and let new light in to guide a bright new future.
After years of soul-searching to find her own way, Paris has discovered that her commitment to changing the world around her — that bright new light — is something that, too, will not be discarded.
All quotes in this article come from transcriptions or recordings of the original speeches mentioned, available on YouTube and other social media outlets