Paris Jackson is strikingly poised, sitting in a makeshift interview room in the basement of NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, with a group of close friends, like-minded philanthropic activists and her publicist gathered around her. When we walk in, she’s cool and relaxed, wearing an olive green slip dress that shows off her now-famous collection of tattoos that she’s amassed in the most recent of her 19 short years; a dream catcher on her shoulder, a series of aura-colored chakras on her chest, dainty lettering on the side of her palm. She stands and introduces herself with an ease of someone who’s been in the spotlight her whole life, but with a newfound calm and confidence that says, “now is my time.” Maybe it’s a millennial thing, like Selena Gomez’s career-changing declaration of “I’ve deserved this. I’ve earned this.” back in 2015. Or maybe this is just Paris.
On stage at Global Citizen Live only minutes earlier, Jackson stood with Xavier Bettle, the openly gay and married Prime Minister of Luxembourg, to publicly pledge her 100% support to fighting the AIDS pandemic, a cause her godmother, Elizabeth Taylor, fought tirelessly for back in the 1980s. “Thirty years ago, almost to the day, our then-president Ronald Reagan would not speak about AIDS publicly while the pandemic was wreaking havoc within the gay community; he wouldn’t even say the word…AIDS,” Jackson told the audience. “Elizabeth Taylor was having none of that. She wasn’t going to let this crisis run wild as it directly impacted her friends & loved ones, those the administration considered discardable. Undaunted, she went to DC and spoke as loud as she could. From the Oval Office to testifying in front of Congress, Elizabeth would not be silenced. Her tireless efforts led to Ronald Reagan finally uttering the word AIDS publicly in 1987.”
Standing in the spotlight—a place the daughter of Michael, for a long time, refused to be—Jackson announced that, after going on a life-changing trip to Malawi, where she witnessed the detrimental effects of what too little education and advocacy can do, she will now be the Ambassador for the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, working to change the “unique stigma that comes with an HIV diagnosis.”
“Here we are decades later, living under a president who lost the popular vote and has proven himself to have the compassion and empathy of a dead flashlight battery,” Jackson said. “His budget proposes slashing healthcare funding for HIV/AIDS worldwide. So now, here I am hearing my Godmother’s voice, urging me to be heard and not allow all that’s been accomplished, in finding the cure, to fall by the wayside. But listen…I’ve got real news for him. None of us were discardable in 1987, and none of us are discardable now.”
Back in the tiny room, we spoke to Jackson about advocacy, activism and why now, after 19 years, she’s finally ready to embrace her given fame for the better.
So what brought you to this particular movement, fighting AIDS?
When I was in high school, they didn’t teach me about AIDS. They said, “oh yeah, AIDS was this thing in the ‘80s, there was a huge epidemic, a lot of people died….that’s it. Oh, and wear a condom. But that’s it. They don’t talk about different kinds of ways you can catch it, different kinds of ways you can prevent it, different types of medication for it. You don’t learn about any of that. You learn about the basic kinds of STDs and you don’t learn about the huge pandemic that’s still happening and how it’s still going on today and how it affects the entire world. So education is key, especially when it has to do with health. Our schools lack in a lot of different aspects, but health is a very, very important thing… one day, millennials are going to be in charge. We’re going to be the politicians, we’re going to be the president, we’re going to be parliament. Whatever it is, we’re going to be the ones leading this country and leading this world so it’s important that all of us are educated.
How did your godmother, Elizabeth Taylor, influence you to join her own movement?
Well, it’s more than just her name attached to it. A movement is a movement. Activism is activism, regardless of whoever is attached to it. And this seemed to make the most sense because of the distant relation between me and her. I feel like we were going to get on board with a similar project at some point anyways, and it just made the most sense to get on board a project with someone who I consider family.
A theme of the night has been equality and ensuring that globally, women’s rights are human rights. But it still feels like women’s rights—despite the women’s movement happening right now—are feminist ideals, not global ideals.
There’s this connotation around feminism still, where people are afraid to call themselves feminists because they think it means “female power.” There’s a difference between feminism and female power. Feminism literally means equality, so when you fight for equality, then you’re a feminist because you want equal rights. But if you were to say no, I want all women in government, or I want all women in charge of this, then that would not be feminism.
There are so many issues that Global Citizen works for (poverty, the stigma of menstruation and the effects it has on girls education, gender equality, climate change, etc). How do you choose which one to be a part of?
Eh, it’s pretty easy, just be a part of all of them. Get involved with as many possible movements as you can. If it means equality, if it means love. Just do it. No matter what the problem is, if you add love to it, that’s all you need.
What are some of the best ways to get involved? For you and for other people.
Okay. Start with your community. What is your community need, what needs improvement? What can you do to help create equality? There are Facebook pages that you can get involved in; social media is a huge platform where unfortunately people use it for blame, they use it for hatred, but social media is one of the quickest ways where you can reach someone from California to Australia, the North Pole to China. Wherever it is, you can create a really huge community with the platform of social media and there are so many pages you can get involved in. Whether it’s animal rights, equal rights, whether it’s black lives matter. Whatever it is, you can get involved online as well. And then with that, you can start going to protests, you can start signing petitions, you can start creating petitions!
Why now? Why is now the time for you?
Why not? I’m 19, I’m a millennial. Other millennials will listen to me if I have that platform, so I can relate. I’ve been through it too.
Was there a moment when you were thinking “I really want to get involved but I don’t know what or how,” or did you always know you wanted to become an activist?
I’ve always wanted to be involved in activism, but I didn’t realize it could be at such a large scale that it is now. I didn’t really want to be in the spotlight as much when I was younger. You know, I said, “I’ll be a nurse or I’ll be an astronaut,” and I would do the activism on the side. But then I realized “you know, I was given a platform, I might as well do something with it. Why not use the fame for the activism?” So my job now is basically equal, if not less, than my activism.
It’s a surprise. You’ll see.
Is it already planned?
Maybe. You’ll see (laughs).