Ariana Grande, Gabrielle Union and hundreds more join fight against US book bans

Gabrielle Union (L) and Ariana Grande (R) join almost 200 creatives signing an open letter against book bans

Singer Ariana Grande and actors Gabrielle Union and Mark Ruffalo are among a number of celebrities who have signed an open letter opposing “the threat of censorship” of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) stories in the US due to the rise of book bans.

The has been a large rise in the number of bans across conservative states in the US in the past few years.

A recent report from the American Library Association documented a record number of attempts to ban literature nationwide, with censors targeting 1,269 library books and 2,571 unique titles.

This is almost double the number of library book bans and a 38 per cent increase from the 1,858 unique titles from two years ago. An overwhelming majority of these are written by members of the LGBTQ+ and/or BIPOC communities.

While Texas is the biggest culprit, other states such as Ron DeSantis’ Florida have also participated in mass censorship drives. There has been a backlash from affected authors, including Jacqueline Wilson, Judy Blume, Emma Donoghue, Juno Dawson and Alice Oseman.

Now, A-list talent are adding their support in a letter spearheaded by Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton, as part of MoveOn’s Banned Bookmobile campaign, which travels across America to distribute books that have been withheld.

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The 175 signatories include gender-non-conforming writer Alok Vaid-Menon, talkshow host Andy Cohen, Pose‘s Billy Porter, Broadway star Idina Menzel, and novelists Margaret Atwood and Roxane Gay.

As the letter reads, this collective of “artists, creators, entertainers and activists [see the] restrictive [book bans as] antithetical to free speech and expression [and having a] chilling effect on the broader creative field”.

Alice Oseman (L) and Judy Blume (R) have historically called out the book bans.
Alice Oseman (L) and Judy Blume have criticised book bans. (Getty)

It states that the government should have no jurisdiction over what people “produce, write, generate, read, listen to or consume”.

The letter continues: “We cannot stress enough how these censorious efforts will not end with book bans. 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 marginalised communities, particularly BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks. 

“We refuse to remain silent as one creative field is subjected to oppressive bans. As artists, we must band together, because a threat to one form of art is a threat to us all.”

It concludes by urging people across America to join the pushback “regardless of personal or ideological disagreements” and to challenge “draconian politicians” at a local level to stop bans in school districts.

In an interview discussing the letter with The Hollywood Reporter, Roots star Burton said: “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.

“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.”

In an exclusive interview with PinkNews earlier this month, award-winning lesbian author Donoghue said: “After the anti-queer backlash I’m seeing in the States now, it’s become urgent again to say that we’ve always been here, there’s no erasing us.

“To me, it’s always seemed like a slow progress until maybe a year or two ago and it’s alarming. I know one publisher in the States who publishes very diverse books for young readers and their sales are plummeting because booksellers and librarians are afraid to put in orders.

“If you write about under-represented lives, there’s a knee jerk ‘anti-woke’ reaction, the idea that you’re just telling these stories to be woke when in fact you’re wanting to tell the truth.”