scorecardFrom ‘Let Them Eat Cake’ to ‘All Eyes on Rafah’: Did Blockout 2024 make Indian celebrities speak out for Gaza?
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From ‘Let Them Eat Cake’ to ‘All Eyes on Rafah’: Did Blockout 2024 make Indian celebrities speak out for Gaza?

From ‘Let Them Eat Cake’ to ‘All Eyes on Rafah’: Did Blockout 2024 make Indian celebrities speak out for Gaza?
LifeInternational5 min read
Over two centuries ago, in a France impoverished by multiple socio-economic crises, a French noble casually uttered the words: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”.

The nobleperson could never have known how consequential these word — roughly translated to 'Let them eat cake' — would be, as this callous string of words would later mistakenly become attributed to the last queen of France. And she certainly could never have predicted how an interpretation of the phrase would butterfly into fuelling one of the largest unorganised protests in modern times.

The Met Gala incident

In early May, popular internet influencer Haley Kalil put on a floral dress designed by her friend Marc Bouwer. All was going perfect; Kalil was headed to the Met Gala — one of the biggest and most exclusive fashion events ever — adorned in an utterly gorgeous 18th-century-style dress. Even if she wasn’t allowed inside the Gala, Kalil would meet and interact with the biggest names in movies, fashion, entertainment.. you name it, all of which would undoubtedly boost her social presence through the roof. All was going well — until it wasn’t.

In an attempt to jump onto an ongoing TikTok trend, one utilising a popular audio clip from the 2006 film Marie Antoinette, Kalil unleashed a social media revolution not seen until #Metoo a few years earlier. In the film, Marie heartlessly proclaims “Let them eat cake!” in response to the information that the nation’s starving poor had run out of bread.

In another, slightly more perfect world, and maybe at a different time, the clip would have buried itself under the mountains of TikTok trends that would inevitably come after it. But at a time where the brutal Israel-Gaza conflict had subject millions of Palestinians to horrifying levels of hunger and thirst, Kalil’s seemingly innocuous clout-chasing did not, quite understandably, sit well with the global audience.

A flurry of backlash soon followed Kalil’s now-deleted post from the Gala, which had since received dozens of millions of viewers. Many were furious at Kalil’s tone-deaf attitude towards the ongoing Gaza crisis, even if the influencer was simply following a trend without understanding its context. For the vast majority of people frustrated with the general status quo, however, this was the last straw.

Blocklist 2024 is born

The Israel-Hamas war had been going on for over half a year now. An estimated 35,000 Palestinians, including children too young to make sense of any of it, had perished. As bombs rained down on hospitals, schools and refugee centres, 2.3 million Gazans became forcibly displaced, marking one of the deadliest confrontations the world had seen in a while. As mass protests erupted all over the world, there was a measurably deafening silence from the world’s celebrities, who commanded the biggest spheres of influence.

Frustrations were further fueled by the actions of a few influencers who refraining from participating in an important issue, but were also wasting exorbitant amounts of money on extravagances instead. Many pointed out that tickets to the 2024 Met Gala can cost around Rs 62 lakhs — a massive sum that could have been better spent in aiding the starving and injured in Gaza. Many were frustrated, and decided to force action out of these tight-lipped celebrities.

As a result, the Blockout List 2024 was created. The aim was to mass block all these “complicit” A-listers on various social media platforms, thereby reducing their visibility and reach. This, the protestors hoped, would cut into their income by straining brand partnerships, and therefore force them to speak out on the matter. Very soon, multiple star-studded block lists spread through the internet, causing personalities such as Kim Kardashian, Alia Bhatt, Taylor Swift and Beyonce to lose thousands to millions of followers overnight.

Celebrities finally extend support to Gaza

While most celebrities still remained quiet after the event, some made quick reparations. Singer Lizzo soon posted an Instagram video thanking activists and shared ways to help in the evacuation of Gazans. However, some pointed out that celebrities might now begin to speak out in response to the backlash, and not out of genuine concern for the situation in Gaza. Others simply applauded that at least the bare minimum was finally being achieved.

However, the biggest wave of public and celebrity support finally came around after a terrible new tragedy struck Gaza. Just two days after being ordered by the International Court of Justice to halt its deadly offensive on Rafah — a cramped refugee city now housing about half of Gaza’s displaced population — Israel ramped up its bombing of the war-torn area. This led to the death of 45 civilians, what Israel has termed “a tragic accident”.

In addition to renewing global outrage against the Israeli government, an AI-generated image with the words ‘All Eyes On Rafah’ quickly flooded social media. The image, which has now been shared at least 44 million times on Instagram stories and social media posts, depicted refugee shelter tents in Rafah, and attempted to warn Israel that the world was now watching the nation’s actions closely.

Interestingly enough, many celebrities, Indian and otherwise, shared the AI-image in droves this time. This included Kareena Kapoor Khan, Madhuri Dixit, Varun Dhawan, Dua Lipa, Bella Hadid, Tripti Dimri, Sonam Kapoor and Samantha Ruth Prabhu. Several of these personalities, such as Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Alia Bhatt, had been added to a Blockout list prior to this act of solidarity.

While the real intention behind this suspiciously-timed support can be debated, many of the celebrities have faced new backlash. Several Indians chastised the stars for not speaking out against atrocities against different communities in their own country, spurring a rejuvenation of the Bollywood boycott movement. In response, Madhuri Dixit and Ritika Sharma (wife of Rohit Sharma) deleted their stories, a move that another section of netizens deemed “pathetic”.

In an age where the power of social media can propel both justice and vanity with equal fervor, the fallout from Kalil’s ill-fated post underscores a critical question: can the amplification of voices, no matter how misinformed, be harnessed for genuine global change? The true impact of the blockout movement, whether fleeting or foundational, remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that the power dynamics between the public and its icons are shifting, demanding a more conscientious engagement with global issues.