Can you ignore your family’s politics? Jennifer Lawrence and Sydney Sweeney disagree

The Euphoria actor wants to keep things apolitical – but treating politics as abstract has always been a privilege

Jennifer Lawrence says she “can’t fuck with people who aren’t political”. In a cover interview with Vogue, the actor revealed that she no longer has any patience for people who are passive about politics because things are now “too dire … Politics are killing people.”

Politics have been killing people for a very long time, of course. Military spending decisions kill people. Austerity, and a lack of social welfare spending, kills people. Climate crisis and gun control policies, or a lack thereof, kill people. Treating politics as something abstract, something that doesn’t significantly impact your day-to-day life, has always been a privilege.

I’m not here to scold Lawrence for not being woke straight out of the womb, though (this isn’t Twitter). She grew up in a conservative household in Kentucky and, as many people do, adopted her parents’ politics. Since then, however, she has evolved and been very frank about how and why she gradually moved away from Republican policies. Travelling for work expanded her worldview, Lawrence has said, and made her realize that wherever she went, wealth never seemed to trickle down but was always concentrated at the top. She wasn’t exactly radicalized but she became firmly liberal and now, she tells Vogue, she has nightmares about Tucker Carlson.

Lawrence’s views may have evolved but her family’s don’t seem to have, which has caused a painful rift. The 2016 election fractured her relationship with some relatives, including her dad, she told Vogue. The reversal of Roe v Wade dealt it another blow. “I don’t want to disparage my family, but I know that a lot of people are in a similar position with their families. How could you raise a daughter from birth and believe that she doesn’t deserve equality? How?” Brett Kavanaugh, dad to two daughters, might be able to tell her.

Lawrence isn’t the only celebrity whose family’s political leanings are making life hard for them. The Euphoria star Sydney Sweeney recently caught flak because her mother threw a hoedown-themed 60th birthday that looked a little Trumpy. Photos of party guests wearing Maga-style red baseball caps with the phrase “Make Sixty Great Again”, and one unidentified guest wearing a “Blue Lives Matter” T-shirt (a pro-police backlash to Black Lives Matter), went viral.

Twitter detectives went to work and found a picture on Sweeney’s brother’s Instagram account of a baby with a Maga hat on outside the White House. Rumours started swirling that Sweeney’s family were Trump-loving Republicans and a lot of fans got very upset and started questioning the actor’s politics. Sweeney, it should be noted, has never said much about her political leanings but her roles in shows like Euphoria – and the fact that her breakout role was in The Handmaid’s Tale – seem to have led a lot of her young, progressive fans to assume she’s liberal.

“You guys this is wild,” Sweeney tweeted in response to the furore. “An innocent celebration for my moms milestone 60th birthday has turned into an absurd political statement, which was not the intention. Please stop making assumptions.”

The anger directed towards Sweeney did feel a little over the top. After all, nobody chooses their family. However, her response to the outrage also felt disingenuous. When you wear a Blue Lives Matter shirt, you’re not making a fashion statement, you’re making a political statement. As a lot of commentators pointed out, Sweeney ignoring the political nature of some of the photos and accusing people of politicizing an innocent event felt a lot like gaslighting.

Again, nobody chooses their family. But when you’re an adult, you choose how you react to your family’s politics. Lawrence told Vogue that she has tried to “forgive my dad and my family and try to understand: it’s different. The information they are getting is different. Their life is different.” Still, she admitted, she can’t pretend their politics don’t matter. “I’ve tried to get over it and I really can’t. I can’t.”

Sweeney, meanwhile, seems to have chosen to act as if politics don’t really matter, that civility is more important than civil rights. And she’s not alone in this approach. After Trump won the presidency in 2016, a lot of outlets published advice on how to survive Thanksgiving with a politically divided family. Much of that advice was along the lines of “agree to disagree!” Vogue even suggested a game where anyone who brought up politics was fined $20.

You can acknowledge the fact that your parents supporting radically different ideas from you about a woman’s right to choose, for example, is not the same as them supporting a different sports team. You don’t have to disown your parents for their views, but if you don’t confront them in some way, then you are complicit.

Maybe Lawrence should take young Sweeney aside at the next Hollywood award show and talk to her a bit about how it’s no longer possible to be passive about politics.


Arwa Mahdawi

The GuardianTramp

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