Bollywood stars have taken to social media in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and racial injustice protests across the United States. But critiques of selective activism have also emerged, pointing out that these same stars have promoted skin whitening creams or have failed to speak out for the plight of migrant minorities in India.
Priyanka Chopra — whom Forbes called “arguably the most successful Bollywood actor to cross over to Hollywood” — Sonam Kapoor — winner of India’s prestigious Filmfare Award in 2017 — and Disha Patani — who starred alongside Jackie Chan in the film “Kung Fu Yoga” — were among those criticised for posts promoting social justice and arguing that all skin colours deserve respect.
They previously served as brand ambassadors for Garnier, L’Oréal or Pond’s “fairness” creams, which are widely promoted in India as a means of reducing darker skin.
In a 2017 Vogue interview, Chopra said she had second thoughts about her skin-whitening campaign and was singled out as a child for her darker skin tone. Nevertheless, she received additional criticism on Wednesday after her husband, American singer Nick Jonas, posted a thread vowing that the couple would take a stand against “systemic racism, bigotry and exclusion.”
Critics were quick to argue that Chopra — referred to as “Pri” in Jonas’ post — had yet to make similar statements against systemic racism within India, particularly the lynchings of Indian Muslims, the country’s largest religious minority.
One person pointed out that Jonas and Chopra invited Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — whose government has been accused of inaction in preventing violence against Muslims — to their wedding.
Bollywood actor and producer Abhay Deol posted a nuanced take on the subject on Tuesday. “Now that ‘woke’ Indian celebrities and the middle class stand in solidarity with fighting systemic racism in America, perhaps they’d see how it manifests in their own backyard?” he wrote on Instagram.
“America has exported violence to the world, they have made it a more dangerous place, it was but inevitable that it would come back karmically,” Deol added. “I’m not saying they deserve it, I’m saying look at the picture in it’s totality. I’m saying support them by calling out the systemic problems in your own country, because they turn out to be one and the same thing. I’m saying follow their lead but not their actions. Create your own actions, your own movement, relevant to your own country. That is what the black lives matter movement is all about!”
Deol also shared an analysis of whitening creams in India, highlighting the nature of the language used to describe skin color in marketing, including terms such as “white glow.”
Beyond the world of celebrities, the death of George Floyd in the United States has sparked a larger discussion within Indian social media circles.
Many draw parallels between the plight of Black Americans and that of Indian Muslims, and some argue that if Floyd had died in India, mass protests would have erupted in favor of the police.