Ariana Grande, Guillermo del Toro, Padma Lakshmi and More Sign Open Letter Denouncing Book Bans and Their “Chilling Effect” (Exclusive)

by 24britishtvSept. 19, 2023, 6 p.m. 15
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Ariana Grande, Guillermo del Toro, Padma Lakshmi, Roxane Gay, Gabrielle Union, Sandra Cisneros, Amanda Gorman, Margaret Cho and Ron Perlman are among the signatories of an open letter calling on creative communities in Hollywood and beyond to leverage their voices to stop book bans.

Upwards of 175 actors, musicians, authors, comedians, reality stars, models, media personalities, academics, activists and more have signed the open letter spearheaded by Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton and published Tuesday via public advocacy organization and political action committee MoveOn Political Action.

The letter encourages signatories and readers to address challenges at the local level across U.S. school districts, while calling out book bans as “restrictive behavior” that is “antithetical to free speech and expression.” It also underscores the “chilling effect” these bans can have “on the broader creative field.”

“We cannot stress enough how these censorious efforts will not end with book bans,” the letter continues. “It’s only a matter of time before regressive, suppressive ideologues will shift their focus toward other forms of art and entertainment, to further their attacks and efforts to scapegoat marginalized communities, particularly BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks.”

The letter concludes that signatories will “refuse to remain silent as one creative field is subjected to oppressive bans” and urges artists to “band together, because a threat to one form of art is a threat to us all.”

“It’s embarrassing that we are banning books in this country, in this culture, in this day and age. And it’s dangerous that a handful of individuals are deciding that any book with Black and queer people is divisive,” said Burton, executive producer of the 2023 documentary The Right to Read. “We are calling on everyone to join us in raising their voices to uphold artistic freedom, embrace multicultural history and put a stop once and for all to book bans.”

Mark Ruffalo; Billy Porter; Chelsea Handler; Constance Wu; John Leguizamo; Christie Brinkley; Angie Thomas; Raquel Willis; Idina Menzel; Roxane Gay; Adina Porter; Judy Blume; Busy Philipps; Garbage; Jodi Picoult; Natasha Rothwell; Andy Cohen; Sarah Paulson; Emma Roberts; Abigail Disney; Jazz Jennings; Margaret Atwood; Michael Ian Black; Sharon Stone; Judd Apatow; Nikki Giovanni; Alyssa Milano; Bill Nye; Zooey Deschanel; Patton Oswalt; Aisha Tyler; Natasha Lyonne; Maia Kobabe; Zoe Lister-Jones; Alok; and Ava Max are also among those who have backed the open letter, which began collecting signatures this summer and is available in full at www.ArtistsAgainstBookBans.com.

“There is a growing consensus among the majority of Americans that book bans take our country backward,” added MoveOn political action executive director Rahna Epting. “Ron DeSantis and MAGA Republicans seek to censor all of our diverse backgrounds and to punish those who live, love and think differently than they do. We won’t surrender to their extremism. They cannot erase us. We are the majority; we are defiant, and we will prevail.”

In her own statement, banned author, LGBTQ advocate and star of TLC series I Am Jazz called signing the open letter “crucial” and expressed that “by speaking out, I can defend freedom of expression, promote representation and inclusivity, support education and understanding, counter prejudice and discrimination and empower young readers to embrace their identities and fight for their rights.”

Actress and producer Union urged supporters to not “stand idly by as book bans spread hate and fear,” adding that “our differences must be celebrated, and our children deserve to have resources to explore the fullness of our world.” In her own statement, Taste the Nation host Lakshmi declared that “we cannot shield our children from our history, as my generation was. Deciding what books are in school libraries is the job of librarians, not politicians who want to continue to whitewash the country.”

Award-winning authors like Sandra Cisneros — who called books “good medicine” and explained that “if this one isn’t your prescription, you just put it back on the shelf for someone who needs it” — and Jodi Picoult, who warned that bans that started “on school shelves are already morphing into content challenges” at public libraries, bookstores and theaters, also vocalized their stance against censorship alongside online reading community Belletrist co-founders Emma Roberts and Karah Preiss and Broadway star Idina Menzel, who co-writes children’s books with her sister and teacher, Cara Mentzel.

“Banning books takes away resources from kids who are trying to find themselves

and discover the world,” Roberts and Preiss said. “We all need to speak out to fight these bans, because politicians cannot be allowed to stifle our growth, creativity or identities.”

Menzel and Mentzel added: “It’s on all of us to support all kids against book bans. We must come together and continue to advocate for children of all backgrounds, races, genders and sexual orientations so they know they are loved, valued and that we will stop at nothing to protect their rights.”

The letter’s release coincides with National Banned Books Month and comes amid a corresponding public petition from MoveOn, which will connect signatories with future advocacy opportunities around book bans. Such opportunities include methods of support or events related to MoveOn’s Banned Bookmobile, which launched a multi-city tour this past summer after measures touted and supported by Gov. Ron DeSantis resulted in an increase in banned and restricted books in Florida schools, according to the Associated Press.

In October, the bookmobile will once again distribute free banned books, in addition to hosting events held in conjunction with Crooked Media’s live Pod Saves America and Lovett or Leave It podcasts, and author readings in Georgia, Virginia and South Carolina as part of a broader “Read Banned Books” initiative.

In 2022, book bans hit an all-time high across 21 years of recording, according to Education Week, with PEN America — a research organization dedicated to tracking threats to free expression — reporting over 4,000 book challenges and bans in school districts since June 2021.

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