The victimisation of celebrities and freedom of speech

The Mandalorian is a show focused on intergalactic conflicts and a father-son style dynamic to rival any others. It comes as a surprise, then, that decisions made by Disney concerning the show have sparked a political conversation over free speech and a debate over whether this core democratic right has declined in the West.  

In February of 2021, Disney+ announced that Gina Carano would be let go from her dynamic and well-loved part of Cara Dune, a title role in the streaming service’s popular Star Wars spin-off. Dune faced accusations of antisemitism after tweets drawing a comparison between the Holocaust at the hands of Nazis to hating an individual for their political views. Twitter users under the hashtag ‘#FireGinaCarano’ also accused the actress of transphobic and racist views, as well as denial of coronavirus. In a statement Lucasfilm, the producer of The Mandalorian, named her social media posts as “abhorrent and unacceptable” and Carano was shortly thereafter also dropped as a client by her talent agency.

As with many other ‘fallen’ celebrities before her, Carano has been met with predominantly conservative and right-wing individuals arguing that Disney’s actions were the result of an ‘anti-conservative bias’ and that Carano’s right to freedom of speech has been violated. Carano has now gone on to accept a movie role with prominent Conservative Talk Show Host Ben Shapiro and claimed she was one of many who had been “bullied” by Disney on Shapiro’s show.

In the United States, being one of the best examples of a state with institutionalized and embedded freedom of speech, protects the right under the First Amendment of the constitution. It articulates that all individuals have the right to hold their own opinions and to express these opinions without government interference. The European Convention on Human Rights similarly protects these rights under Article 10. Conservatives are consistently displaying a misunderstanding that imposes upon the freedom of speech another feature: freedom from repercussions. This, known as negative liberty, or freedom from the interference of others, is affecting the protections provided by freedom of speech.

Freedom of speech should be used for the protection of individuals facing persecution by their government or law enforcement for their views which they have peacefully expressed. However, in Western nations, there is an increasing premonition that freedom of speech is accompanied by inalienable protection from response, backlash, or repercussions from others.

This view has made its way to the UK where Prime Minister Boris Johnson has introduced plans which would require the defense of free speech in UK Universities, as if it was ever under threat in the first place. Gavin Williamson warned of the “chilling effect” of “unacceptable silencing and censoring” in UK universities. The measures will allow for universities to be sued by speakers, academics, and students for what they deem to be breaches of their freedom of speech.

The plans will make it difficult for any university to deny a platform to a speaker due to fear of legal repercussions. Not only can we see that free speech is becoming synonymous with a lack of negative response, but also the UK government has created a precedent for freedom of speech to include a right to a platform. Educational spheres will have their safe spaces penetrated and forced to side-line protection of students from discriminatory views.

As long as people continue to treat those who have acted in a discriminatory manner as fallen heroes these dangerous precedents will continue. Gina Carano will not be the last celebrity to be fired over controversial statements made on social media, however, we can make sure she is the last to feel affirmed and supported in their views. Freedom of speech should never be conjoined to freedom from social repercussions. This connection allows for offenders to be victimized in favour of those who have been discriminated against and curtails our own freedom to announce our disagreement with another. While we comfort those who have done wrong, we will inevitably disregard the minorities who have been negatively affected and weaken the doctrine of freedom of speech to a point where it will have no force within contemporary society.

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