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Celebrities & Dictators seeks to motivate celebrities, athletes, and other public figures to show solidarity with people living under authoritarian regimes.

Fans count on celebrities to use their platforms to bring wider attention to important issues. Public figures often leverage their celebrity to support just causes or endorse organizations that seek to bring about meaningful change in society. However, authoritarian regimes exploit celebrities, social media influencers, entertainment brands, and professional sports institutions to cultivate a false appearance of progress in mainstream popular culture, propagate their political propaganda, and obfuscate international accountability.

Celebrities & Dictators urges celebrities to prioritize morals over money, and to not put their prestige at the service of serial human rights abusers. HRF believes that it is hypocritical for celebrities to vocalize support for good causes, such as women’s rights or racial justice, while accepting money, a business partnership, or an invitation to perform from authoritarian regimes. In doing so, they condone and serve the public relations needs of corrupt dictatorial regimes. Celebrities & Dictators seeks to spark a global conversation and popularize the struggle for human rights.

Our Strategy

Celebrities & Dictators denounces pop culture figures who prop up dictators with performances and photo-ops, and celebrates individuals who place morals above money.


Examples of Impact

In 2021, HRF launched the Empty Box Initiative to shed light on the International Olympic Committee’s complicity with dictatorial regimes.

The 2022 Winter Olympics Games took place in China, a country ruled by one of the world’s most infamous dictators and most egregious human rights abusers. HRF joined grassroots activists and concerned global citizens to urge the International Olympic Committee to disinvite dictators from the opening ceremonies — leaving their Olympic box seats empty in protest.

In 2020, we joined hundreds of fans in persuading American hip hop artist Tyga to cancel his performance at a concert sponsored by Belarus’ dictator.

Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus since 1994, intended to use the concert to prevent pro-democracy protesters from gathering at opposition rallies ahead of the August 2020 presidential elections, which were preceded by arrests of opposition leaders and supporters. HRF, along with hundreds of fans, sent messages on social media to Tyga, urging him to stand in solidarity with the people of Belarus. Tyga later posted a Tweet announcing his cancellation.

In 2019, our dialogue with hip hop artist Nick Minaj led her to take a principled stand for human rights over the money offered by Saudi Arabia’s dictatorship.

After Minaj was invited to perform at a music festival funded by Saudi dictator Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), HRF sent her a letter and opened up a line of dialogue with her team. She not only turned down MBS’ invitation, but also issued a statement expressing support for human rights.

In 2011, media criticism generated by HRF forced Oscar-winning actress Hilary Swank to publicly apologize for going to the Chechen dictator’s birthday gala.

Swank attended Chechen Republic dictator Ramzan Kadyrov’s birthday gala in Grozny, despite a warning from HRF. Following media criticism and another campaign by HRF, Swank agreed to donate the money she received from the dictator to human rights causes. In response to HRF’s efforts, one enterprising consulting firm in Los Angeles launched a free, confidential service to provide the entertainment industry with information on the human rights records of potential paymasters.

In 2014, Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter Erykah Badu canceled her plans to perform for the repressive dictator of The Gambia.

Badu changed her plans after HRF denounced her previous performance at the birthday celebration of King Mswati III of Eswatini in a TIME Magazine column.

News & Media

Take Action

Boycott events that advance the repressive agendas of authoritarian regimes.

Keep yourself informed about human rights abuses by authoritarian regimes and their manipulation of celebrities, entertainment, and sports for propaganda.

Urge your favorite stars to stand up against authoritarian regimes, by defending the values they enjoy in democratic countries.