Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Government and International Affairs

Major Professor

M. Scott Solomon, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Linda Whiteford, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Janna Merrick, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Peter N. Funke, Ph.D.


activism, power, celebrity, global health, mass media, culture studies, influence


Celebrities have historically served a variety of roles in society ranging from the inspirational to the cautionary, utilizing their platforms of visibility to promote themselves, their work, as well as their social and political causes. This study focuses on celebrities as activists engaging with global health issues, with particular attention to the form this engagement takes, the publicity it receives in the mass media, and the types of global health issues that receive the most celebrity attention. An interdisciplinary approach drawing from theories of power, social movement theory, agenda-setting, and cultural studies is used to achieve greater understanding of underlying components of the framework within which this activism exists.

Guiding this research is the primary question, “How do cultural elites prominent in U.S. media impact global health security?”, where the specific subset of cultural elites examined are the most influential Hollywood celebrity actors in film. A series of secondary research questions provide insight on the multiple dimensions of celebrity influence and impact in the context of global health security. Specifically, how does celebrity activism affect global health security discourses? What “truths” are created by celebrity activism in global health? Finally, are the issues these celebrities are advocating for, the most pressing global health concerns?

Utilizing a mixed-methods approach (quantitative-qualitative-quantitative), I demonstrate the most frequent forms of celebrity engagement with their affiliated global health organizations, as well as the media attention devoted to this engagement in the most prominent U.S. newspapers. Furthermore, I offer empirical evidence of how global health engagement of the most influential celebrities compares to the most pressing global health concerns, as expressed through an analysis of the global health issues that claim the most lives globally. Results demonstrate the most effective application of celebrity resources, and determine whether celebrities can be differently situated for greater impact in global health security overall.