The Stars Were Shining Bright in Flint Last Night

This is what happens when black performers show up in Flint on Oscar Night. 

Conor Ralph/The Flint Journal-MLIVE.COM via AP

Even by Hollywood standards, the Oscars are a glittery event. All the megawatt celebrities emerge for it, aglow. Hosts and nominees, and even the opulent set, sparkle. A gold statuette gets to be mascot. And yet for all the enchantment, some stars decided to turn their shine elsewhere last night. 

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Far from the Dolby Theater and the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that buzzed around it, Creed director Ryan Coogler and Selma director Ava DuVernay organized a free event in Flint to raise money and awareness for the ongoing water crisis there. Since government officials switched the water supply from Lake Huron to the polluted Flint River over two years ago, residents have had to get used to a third-world America: Where they live, tap water is too contaminated to drink.  

A production of activist collective Blackout for Human Rights, #JusticeForFlint invited everyone from Stevie Wonder and Estelle to Janelle Monáe and Musiq Soulchild to perform. Between the musical interludes and spoken-word sets, however, celebrities made sure the microphones stayed hot. 

"The reality is we all need water," Stevie Wonder said. "That's a human right." Wonder, a Michigan native, went on to call for the resignation of Governor Rick Snyder. A disaster on this order, he said, "requires accountability. If it goes down bad, someone's gotta go." 

Echoing him, Grey's Anatomy fixture Jesse Williams declared that "this is about holding up a mirror to oppression and exploitation." And Empire star Jussie Smollett spoke for many when he said, "We may not be residents of Flint, but we are Flint." 

Furious as they may be about the disaster and the negligence that catalyzed it, stars stayed upbeat on Sunday. Janelle Monáe, who told audiences that she had made it her mission "to [be] woke," belted out James Brown's "I Feel Good" and her own "Electric Lady." 

And addressing her constituents, Flint Mayor Karen Weaver struck a poignant balance as well.  

"This event provides a wonderful night of entertainment for our residents. While we can never forget what's happened in the city of Flint," she said, "we deserve a night of fun. Flint deserves to have a good time." 

Within hours, Ava DuVernay shared the news: The grassroots event drew over 3,000 donations and added up to over $133,000 in donations to Flint. On set in New Orleans, DuVernay summed up her emotions in one word: "Onward!" 

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