Davos Awards: Elton John Talk Refugees, HIV Crises

Elton John
Jordi Vidal/WireImage

Elton John performs on stage at Palau Sant Jordi on Dec. 3, 2017 in Barcelona, Spain.

Cate Blanchett, Elton John and Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan spoke out on the social issues of immigration, HIV and kids' and women's rights on Monday evening at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

They appeared at the Crystal Awards ceremony, which was webcast and every year honors several artists for their contributions to improving the state of the world and for representing the "spirit" of Davos.

Blanchett got the award for her work with and commitment to refugees. In accepting it on-stage, the actress highlighted such "alarming statistics" of the refugee crisis as the almost 66 million human beings having been forcefully displaced around the world and warned of "divisive and polarizing language being used for political gain."

Calling on all to find new ways of responding to the crisis, she said refugees could be less victim and more participants "in their host communities to the benefit of all." Saying that refugees often get labeled as "an economic burden or a terrorist threat," she urged the audience: "This is the narrative that we truly need to disrupt."

She called on everyone to help drop the loaded label of refugee and instead see the person behind it. "I ask you to be reinvigorated by your moral compass," she told the audience.

Khan got the award for championing kids' and women's rights in India. The Bollywood star said that power can get in the way of universal access. "So we, the powerful, need to get out of the way," he argued.

Khan also talked about how "actors are renowned narcissists" who tend to be "obsessed" by beauty. He said his perspective changed when he met a woman whose face was disfigured by an acid attack, which he called "one of the crudest acts of subjugation imaginable." He said he was impressed by meeting so many women with "the courage to move on with their lives and to reject the idea of victimhood."

Khan lauded them for only having become braver and stronger. "From them I have learned how courage can catalyze victimhood into heroism," he said. 

The Indian star at one point also joked that that his special request for the night was to take a selfie with John and Blanchett, adding: "Now, there I have embarrassed my children."  

John, who got the honor for his fight against HIV/AIDS, told the audience he felt lucky that he could lead his life following a passion, which led him to his passionate fight against HIV. 

"Passion led me into some very dark places. I wasn't a great person for a long time," he shared with the audience. "I lost my humanity, my connection and my respect for myself." He said his fame then led him to philanthropy though, explaining that "I wanted to reconnect, I wanted to be a decent person." 

"We must never turn a blind eye to suffering," he added before addressing the big-name executives, politicians and celebrities in Davos for the World Economic Forum. "You've all made it, baby. But what are you making? What worth does it have if it does not strengthen the bonds of humanity? If we are not seeking to change the world for the better through our work, what is the point of coming here? Yes, there is glory perhaps, fame and prestige. There is wealth, too. But for what? Good work gives you something bigger than fame, richer than wealth, finer even than prizes." 

Calling on all to help change the world, John concluded that "it needs to be changed. The equality in this world is, to be honest with you, disgraceful."

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