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Abdul-Jabbar, 72, singled out several prominent celebrities for criticism, including actress Vanessa Hudgens, music artist Justin Timberlake and billionaire producer David Geffen. In a column for The Hollywood Reporter, Abdul-Jabbar argued that many public figures have spread misinformation or shared posts flaunting their wealth at a time when many Americans are struggling to pay their bills.
“Celebrities shouldn’t be ostracized for their wealth, but they should be sensitive enough not to rub it in the faces of the fans who enabled that fortune,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote.
Abdul-Jabbar noted that Timberlake’s photo of himself “social distancing” on an open snowy landscape could be insensitive to “many people in a small space with their whole family or multiple roommates.” Geffen posted a photo of his super-yacht, the Rising Sun, alongside a message to fans that he hoped everyone was “staying safe.”
The former basketball star was also critical of actress Evangeline Lilly and Hudgens, both of whom initially downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic in messages to millions of social media followers on March 16. Hudgens drew widespread criticism after she said in an Instagram video that COVID-10 deaths were “terrible, but like, inevitable,” while Lilly said she had taken her kids to a gymnastics camp amid calls for social distancing. The actresses later apologized for their posts.
Abdul-Jabbar also ripped some politicians for their handling of the crisis, including President Trump and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. The writer was critical of Trump’s tweets about the television ratings of his press briefings and accused him of spreading misinformation. He also criticized Nunes for pushing back against the closures of schools in his home state as recently as March 31.
Abdul-Jabbar offered some praise for celebrities who have taken an active role in relief efforts during the pandemic. He tempered his remarks toward Timberlake with a reference to his donation to a Memphis food bank and named several celebrities, including actor John Krasinki, country singer Dolly Parton and music mogul Shawn “Jay Z” Carter as examples of those who have been a positive influence.
“Like it or not, stars with their millions of followers do have the power to affect the course of this pandemic by what they say,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “Which is why it’s crucial that while they’re self-isolating, they also need to be self-editing. Saying 'we’re all in this together' is easy; proving it is the challenge.”