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While scores of major players in Hollywood keep their focus on the U.S. election, a number of celebrities are spotlighting two crises overseas: one, the armed conflict between ethnic Armenian and Azerbaijani forces over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh; the other, protests against ongoing police brutality in Nigeria.
In Africa’s most populous country, young Nigerians have been out in force, marching against police shootings in their oil-rich country in what is known as the #EndSars movement, a push to do away with the government’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS). In 1992 SARS was established to fight armed robbery in the capital city of Lagos. The group was later folded into Nigeria’s national police to combat armed criminals, but according to Amnesty International, they started violating Nigerian citizens’ rights, targeting mostly young people.
On Oct. 20, in a violent response by the government, at least 12 Nigerians were killed by soldiers during a peaceful protest at the Lekki Toll Gate, according to Amnesty International. D.J. Switch was livestreaming the protests on her Instagram page when the shooting at the Toll Gate happened. “I’m heartbroken. There was no warning. We just heard gunshots and the soldiers came in guns blazing. They were just shooting like we were goats and chickens,” she told CNN.
Among the stars who have spoken out about the lethal crackdowns are Rihanna (who tweeted, “My heart is broken for Nigeria”), Cardi B (“If your people are complaining and are tired about the police, then bro, get that sh** fixed,” she said in a video on her social media), Beyoncé and John Boyega.
Filmmaker Nzinga Christine Blake tells THR that “it’s wonderful to see that Hollywood is [standing] in solidarity with a new generation that is calling for an end to police brutality — just like the social justice movement we are seeing in the United States. This isn’t a political issue — this is a human issue.” And Queen Sono star Pearl Thusi has been sharing pictures and videos of the brutality in Nigeria on her Instagram page. She recently wrote, “NIGERIA: PEACEFUL PROTESTORS SHOT BY THE POLICE! Please share this clip and any clip of dj switch recorded LIVE to ALL AND ANY media outlets and people of influence who can help spread the word and make a difference!!!”
In early October, the protesters released a list of five demands that includes immediate release of all arrested protesters; an independent body to investigate and prosecute police misconduct within 10 days of a claim; and “justice for all deceased victims of police brutality and appropriate compensation for their families.”
At the same time, stars continue to bring attention to the strife between ethnic Armenians and Azerbaijani forces in Nagorno-Karabakh (which broke out Sept. 27), where an estimated half of the population has been displaced by fighting that has taken the lives of hundreds to perhaps 5,000 people, depending on reports. The area’s historical name is Artsakh, and around 150,000 ethnic Armenians populate it. Although it’s recognized internationally as part of Azerbaijan, ethnic Armenians control it. So far, a string of ceasefires has failed to halt fighting.
Armenian American celebrities Cher and Kim Kardashian West have been vocal supporters of Armenia and its people amid the conflict — calling on the U.S. to intervene — with Kardashian West pledging $1 million to the humanitarian Armenia Fund. Eric Esrailian — a producer of the 2016 film The Promise (which looks at the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century) and founder of The Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA — tells THR that “the situation is unfortunately becoming a humanitarian catastrophe for Armenians in this region.” Says The Promise star Oscar Isaac, “To think that Armenian people are in jeopardy once again is heartbreaking.”
In recent days, Armenian Americans have continued to hold large demonstrations in Los Angeles in support of Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh. “I am devastated to hear about what has been happening to Armenians right now. Dr. Esrailian and his team fought so hard to get the Armenian Genocide recognized around the world using The Promise, and it is horrible to think that Armenians may be in danger of another genocide. I hope government leaders in the world use their influence to prevent further tragedy and loss of life,” actress and activist Laura Dern tells The Hollywood Reporter.
Esrailian hopes for a peaceful resolution that recognizes the right to self-determination for the Armenian people of Artsakh. “This region has been kind of an ancestral homeland for Armenians for literally thousands of years,” he says.
A version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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