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Ariana Grande among celebrities to denounce ‘chilling’ book bans in open letter

Ariana Grande, Mark Ruffalo and director Guillermo del Toro are among a list of nearly 175 actors, comedians, musicians, reality stars, models, authors and activists who have signed an open letter denouncing book banning laws being passed in the US.

On Tuesday (19 September), public advocacy organisation MoveOn published the letter “defending the freedom to read”, spearheaded by PBS’s Reading Rainbow host LeVar Burton.

“As the former host of Reading Rainbow, I spent over 20 years inspiring millions of people of all ages to discover their love of reading. Now I’m seeing the books we once celebrated being challenged, restricted, and banned,” Burton’s note reads.

The open letter calls on “everyone to join us in pushing back against these book bans, support free speech and open creative industries – regardless of personal or ideological disagreements – and use their voice at the local level to stop these bans in their school districts”.

“This restrictive behaviour is not just antithetical to free speech and expression but has a chilling effect on the broader creative field,” it adds.

“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, expression, and entertainment, to further their attacks and efforts to scapegoat marginalised communities, particularly BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks.

“We refuse to allow draconian politicians to take that away from us.”

Ariana Grande, Gabrielle Union and Guillermo del Toro (Getty Images)
Ariana Grande, Gabrielle Union and Guillermo del Toro (Getty Images)

Natasha Lyonne, Bill Nye, Gabrielle Union, Constance Wu, John Leguizamo, Emma Roberts, Sarah Paulson, Andy Cohen, Margaret Atwood, Zooey Deschanel, Zoe Lister-Jones, Busy Philipps, and Christie Brinkley are also among the high-profile names to have supported the letter, which began collecting signatures this summer.

Within the first half of the 2022-2023 school year, according to PEN America, there were at least 1,4777 attempts to ban 874 individual book titles.

At least 30 per cent of the impacted titles are books about race, racism, or feature characters of colour, and more than a quarter of all titles include LGBT+ characters or themes.

This new wave of book bans sweeping across the US has largely been fuelled by Republican lawmakers, religious groups, politically motivated school boards and right-wing activists, all under the auspices of a “parental rights” campaign.

Among the recent targets was a 1989 title in the Arthur book series, which was the subject of a complaint in a Florida school district after a parent claimed the book would “damage souls”.