Democracy Dies in Darkness
Pop Culture
The latest ‘paparazzi versus celebrity kids’ fight has been raging for nearly a decade. And it’s still complicated.
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Supermodel Gigi Hadid in New York City in July 2021. (Gotham/GC Images/Getty Images)
ByEmily Yahr
July 29, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. EDT
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Ever since supermodel Gigi Hadid gave birth last fall — a daughter named Khai, whose father is pop star Zayn Malik — she frequently shares Instagram photos with her 68.3 million followers showcasing the cozy side of life as a new mom: Pushing the baby in a stroller on a perfect-weather day, or Khai nestled against her shoulder taking a nap. But this month, she posted a long block of text that took on an unusually serious tone, in an open letter addressed to paparazzi, the press and online fan accounts.
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“We have never intentionally shared our daughter’s face on social media,” Hadid wrote in the nearly 450-word missive posted to her Instagram story. “It would mean the world to us, as we take our daughter to see and explore NYC and the world, if you would PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE blur her face out of the images, if and when she is caught on camera.”
Hadid, who only offers cropped or blurred photos of the baby, said Khai has started opening the sun shade of her stroller to gaze out at the city, and she wants her daughter to enjoy the scenery “without the stress of the media circus” that typically accompanies the children of famous parents.
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“I know the laws change state to state, and I’ve seen some paparazzi photos of kids in NYC with their faces blurred — but from asking around, I believe that that comes down to the integrity of the photographer, publications, or fans sharing the images,” she said, adding, “I hope this can continue the conversation to protect minors in the media, even if they come from a public family.”
Hadid’s viral post is the latest in the aforementioned never-ending conversation about celebrities, their children, and privacy. The issue has only grown more complicated over the years as stars feel compelled to share endless content on social media to keep people interested — and then fans feel increasingly entitled to know (and sometimes demand) details about their personal lives. Throw in the paparazzi, whose profits have been shrinking in the wake of digital media and the pandemic, and it’s a recipe for angry parents and chaos.
Some celebrities deal with this by placing emoji over their children’s faces on social media. Hadid is one of several high-profile stars who have recently spoken out publicly. In May, “Game of Thrones” star Sophie Turner, whose daughter with musician Joe Jonas just turned a year old, slammed paparazzi, or “grown old men taking pictures of a baby without their permission”: “I’m sickened, I’m disgusted and I’m respectfully asking everyone to stop following us around,” she said in a now-deleted Instagram story.
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Actress Blake Lively, who has three daughters with actor Ryan Reynolds, criticized Daily Mail Australia for stitching together a photo that looked like she was cheerfully waving to the camera while she was out walking with her kids in New York City.
“I was able to agree to smile and wave and let them take my picture away from my children if they would leave my kids alone. Because it was frightening,” she wrote in an Instagram comment on the Daily Mail’s account. “Please stop paying grown a-- men to hide and hunt children. … Please delete. C’mon. Get with the times.”
Those who remember the last time this fight flared up may be surprised to learn that it’s still an issue in the year 2021 — an era much more attuned to sensitivity about privacy and consent to sharing photos. Those nuances were still in flux eight years ago, when Halle Berry and Jennifer Garner testified before California’s state lawmakers in support of an “anti-paparazzi” bill that would impose harsh penalties on photographers who harassed the children of celebrities.
“My daughter doesn’t want to go to school because she knows ‘the men’ are watching for her,” said Berry, who was pregnant with her son at the time. “If it passes, the quality of my life and my children’s lives will be dramatically changed.”
Halle Berry testifies before the Assembly Committee on Public Safety at the state Capitol in Sacramento in 2013. (Randy Pench/Sacramento Bee/Tribune News Service/Getty Images)
The bill was ultimately signed into law in California in September 2013, and penalties ranged from a year in jail to tens of thousands of dollars in fines. Garner, who has three children with Ben Affleck and is one of the most outspoken stars on the subject, recently told SiriusXM host Jess Cagle that the bill being passed was “life-changing,” because instead of 20 photographers following her family, now they only have one or two.
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Cagle, who took over as editor of People magazine in 2014 after five years as the editor of Entertainment Weekly, stepped into the job just as celebrities were aiming their frustration with photographers at another target: The media. Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard led the charge, putting pressure on print, online and TV outlets to enact a “no kids” photo policy, and urged their fellow celebrity pals to skip the publications on red carpets or turn down interviews if editors didn’t agree. People instituted the policy when Cagle started, and he eventually shared the decision in a letter with readers.
“It was the humane thing to do — these kids didn’t ask to be famous,” Cagle said in a phone interview. He heard firsthand from actors who felt like they couldn’t walk down the street or take their kids to school without them being frightened by photographers hounding them with giant cameras. “We didn’t want to support an industry where kids are being terrorized or chased.”
Multiple celebrity-focused outlets at the time agreed to the ban, including “Entertainment Tonight,” “The Insider” and gossip site Just Jared. Cagle said he was surprised by the number of stars who approached him at premieres or photo shoots to say that the policy really made a difference — if fewer publications were willing to purchase the photos of kids, that cut off the pipeline to a big payday and lessened the motivation for photographers.
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There were caveats, of course: If a kid were at an event, then that was fair game, and same if mom or dad posted a photo on social media. Plus, as Cagle noted in his letter to readers at the time, outlets face a tricky balancing act “when dealing with stars who exploit their children one day, and complain about loss of privacy the next.” Sometimes staffers had to call celebrities to see if a photo of their child was sanctioned.
“What we wanted to avoid was buying paparazzi photos that might look innocent enough, and it may even look like people and their kids are happy to photographed — but really they’re not,” Cagle said.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, none of the photo agencies contacted for this story responded to a request for interview or comment. The California bill was controversial at the time; some media and photo organizations countered that the bill contained vague language on “harassment” and infringed on First Amendment rights.
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Dale Cohen, the director of the Documentary Film Legal Clinic at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law, didn’t live in California when the law was passed but recalled there was a great deal of debate about its constitutionality. Critics argued about “the proper balance of the rights of privacy and families versus the First Amendment” and the right to seek photos of people when they’re in public places, he said.
Ever since, Cohen said, there has been very little — if any — litigation or criminal charges in such cases. He suspects that no matter how technology and perception of the paparazzi evolves, this will always be a contentious topic, one that dates back to the 1970s, when Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis fought a legal battle against famed photographer Ron Galella, who relentlessly pursued her as well as her children, John and Caroline.
“In all honesty, I think this is a subject that cycles in and out of public view,” Cohen said. “My guess is that each generation of celebrity parents learns how to deal with the costs of their extremely effective use of the media and their popularity, and what the downside of that may be.”
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By Emily Yahr
Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter for The Washington Post. She joined The Post in 2008 and has previously written for the Boston Globe, USA Today, the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and the American Journalism Review.
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