Raising Africa?: Celebrity and the Rhetoric of the White Saviour

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Katherine M. Bell


The ‘White Savour’ is a timeworn vehicle for celebrities in Hollywood film, where actors perform as heroes who save the day against dark and ominous adversaries. Pop stars take on personas and ‘exotic’ characters as well. And with increasing visibility, the famous perform real-life hero roles as philanthropists for social causes around the so-called ‘developing’ world. This essay explores how the celebrity philanthropist is constructed as redeemer of distant Others and how this role mingles with a celebrity’s on-stage personas to create the White Saviour, a powerful brand of cultural authority. It examines the power of Bono, Jolie and Madonna as key figures in contemporary African celebrity aid and diplomacy work, and at Madonna and Jolie as famous mothers. I argue that their campaigns employ a universalizing rhetoric of individualism that reinscribes colonial narratives of Africa’s diverse peoples as passive and helpless, and that ultimately burnishes the celebrity brand.

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General Articles (Peer Reviewed)