At a time when young celebrities are often ridiculed for their criminal hijinks and pseudo-activism, it’s important to remember that there are folks in Hollywood who actually want to use their celebrity for good. Take actress Rosario Dawson.When you look at the long path she’s traveled in such a short life (she’s 31 years old), it makes perfect sense that she’s so deeply committed to activism, not just a pretty face hoping for an altruistic photo-op. Rosario was discovered on her stoop at 15 years old by Harmony Korine, the notorious director of “Kids.” With no acting training and little of her own experience to draw from—she’d never been drunk or slept with anyone—she played Ruby, the lost, lusting teenager.
From there, Rosario has gone on to star in over 30 films, including Hollywood blockbusters like “Seven Pounds” opposite Will Smith. Though she does now call Los Angeles her home, she’s still deeply rooted in New York, in activism, and in authenticity.
I got to know Rosario while I was researching my new book, Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists. In it, I profile eight diverse activists 35 and under—from a 7th grade teacher in the Bronx, to a social worker in East L.A., to an environmental justice activist from Detroit. I’m advocating abandoning the empty “save the world” rhetoric that so many of my generation were raised on and getting real about what it takes to find that sweet spot where one’s biggest gifts meets the world’s deepest needs.
I was a bit ambivalent, at first, about including a celebrity in the mix, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had to grapple with our generation’s often complicated relationship with fame. The majority of the activists I profile are coping with a lack of power, organizing and advocating to try to get more of it so they can improve their communities. But a few have an excess of power—like philanthropist Tyrone Boucher, who gives his $400,000 inheritance away, or filmmaker Emily Abt, who has to grapple with her own class and race privilege as she comes of age in Cambridge.
Fame is another form of excess power. Though Rosario didn’t ask for it, she got it. Now the question she has to face everyday is what the hell she should do with it.
Rosario is more thoughtful about this responsibility than most of the actor/activists her age. She really craves to be authentic and knowledgeable in her good works. She says: “I’m asked to be a part of stuff and it’s sometimes shocking to me how little they care if I know about the issue. It makes me really have to draw the line and say, ‘No, I’m not going to be a part of that, because I want to know what I’m doing and not just be one of those celebrities that says something on the red carpet that actually hurts the cause.’”
Rosario currently puts the majority of her energy into Voto Latino, which she co-founded with Maria Teresa Kumar, V-Day, of Eve Ensler fame, and New York City’s Lower East Side Girls Club, which is dear to her heart since she grew up in the neighborhood. Rosario explains, “I want to make sure that I’m as effective as possible and it’s hard because I care about so many different issues.”
Read more about Rosario and her very candid explanation of her ongoing struggle to be authentic in her activism in Do It Anyway, released just this week.