Celebrity Case Study: Bella Thorne
You might know her best from her time on Disney Channel's Shake It Up as sweet Cece, but Bella Thorne is a force to reckon with. There's always going to be mixed feelings in the media about celebrities, but I personally choose to recognize Bella Thorne as a voice of my generation whether we like it or not.
Bella Thorne got her start working as an infant model, had smaller acting roles beginning at the age of six, and broke into the industry in her leading role on Disney’s Shake it Up when she was 13 years old. The common narrative in the media about people with similar upbringings usually focuses on their transition from childhood into adulthood, whether it be successful or not. With Bella, there was been a lot of uproar in the media because, throughout her maturing stages, she has become extremely eccentric, impulsive, and, some would say, crude. We're not going to just pretend like those things aren't true.
Because of these things, there is negative press and a negative narrative that follows her like a dark cloud. So much so that people in the TV/film industry don't take her seriously.
This is made very clear by the types of roles she gets in small movies and shows, and the longevity of press coverage and related-fame, or lack thereof. An example of this, that has truly spoken louder than most circumstances, is when Bella found out that her show on Freeform was cancelled through Twitter’s feed. Executives and industry professionals have a history of not respecting her enough to take her seriously as a professional.
I've even seen her come across my desk in the past doing script coverage. A lot of people write her into these stories and roles that would be perfect for her, but I haven't seen any of the ones I've read be made. But as much as I see that eccentric and crude side they focus in on, I truly see so many positives in Bella that prove to me she's going far.
Bella Thorne is a voice of my generation whether we want to believe it or not.
Her biggest strength is her natural ability to perform which, with her wide-ranging audience, allows her to utilize her authentic persona to connect with her fans. This is extremely evident in interviews, where she is extremely candid about her personal life and self. She tells a story of discovery, truth and self-acceptance. She openly discusses her history of abuse, her sexuality, her atypical social media habits, and her current work. And her story shows us that young success after a long road of hard work is something to champion.
Her social media presence is so strong that she actually was able to buy her and her family a beautiful home from money she made solely from Instagram. For someone who had to support her family on the verge of homelessness from a young age, this is huge. She can get paid around 65K from a single Instagram post, and in an influencer ridden world, it doesn't surprise us. But what is amazing about that is she shares a good mix of photos where she is done up in makeup and wardrobe, but also of her in her natural state without makeup or styling. This gives her audience a good idea of her professional/personal life balance and makes her not just a celebrity, but a real person. Her followers may not completely consist of fans of her work because she is somewhat of a spectacle. Her ability to promote her projects to those who may not follow her for her work can go great lengths.
Because she does talk to the media and openly on her social media, she has a lot of control over the narrative that is portrayed of her in the media.
She talks about things that most keep private, and that vulnerability is what makes her authentic as a storyteller. She's open about things that we're all going through, about our culture, and isn't afraid to make a statement about the things she believes in.
Vogue produced a documentary about her called “Inside the Life of Bella Thorne” where she shares the most vulnerable pieces of her. Her sexuality and openness about her truth has allowed her fans to become closer to her and open up about their own personal experiences to her through social media. The director of the documentary stated in an interview that they were hesitant to work with Bella due to preconceptions about her “loose-cannon” style of life. The director stated to Vogue, “But upon meeting her, I was immediately struck by her compassion and intelligence, and forced to question why I’d had the beliefs about her I did. That was the story I wanted to tell” This shows that her reputation has lead people to think less of her as a professional, but those with enough curiosity and compassion can see what she is capable of.
She discussed her personal journey to find self-awareness and self-acceptance with ABC News saying it was a really long one, and was not without struggle. The article, titled “Bella Thorne on the pressure of maintaining a perfect image and finally being honest about who she is,” painted her in a positive light showing how she plays characters who find their voice, and how she wants to inspire people, in reality, to do the same for themselves. She stated:
“I feel like so many people would end up in healthier places if they felt like they actually had someone that’s going to sit there and just listen to them”
And she's definitely right. But the media also likes to focus on the things that could be seen as negative or controversial because that's what sells. Tabloids tend to tell stories about the attributes of Bella Thorne that could be seen as unpolished, like her wardrobe choices or her strong sexual innuendos in her work. Those stories can be considered noise since most celebrities get negative attention in the tabloids, but definitely help influence the public's opinions on a person.
A lot of what Bella does is controversial because of her comfortability with talking about sex and showing sexual innuendos in her work. She even went so far as releasing a short pornographic film that she directed this past year. Her directorial debut. But what's surprising is that it actually got good media coverage. And it actually won awards. It's important to see that this project is not the only thing she's been working on lately. She does not stop, and I appreciate her dedication and hard work that shows us it truly pays off.
She is always working on a new project, even if it's not a major blockbuster.
In just 2018 alone, she had 15 projects and counting. 2019 seemed to be a little slower for releases, but she worked on personal projects and released a poetry book in July. Right now she has at least 8 projects in post-production and four in pre-production according to IMDb. And this year she scored a development deal with Fox for both scripted and unscripted content. This is a huge step in the right direction and it seems like she's finally having some mainstream turnaround.
I get it... it might not be the most conventional way that people are comfortable with, but she's making it work and she's making a mark.
We can see that she's dedicated to telling stories, sharing her experiences, and making a mark on the world. She's a lot braver than most of us and I think her authenticity, her accomplishments, and hard-working spirit show us that the way we perceive people is changing, and if you work hard enough you can have your story be told.