Inside Jane Fonda’s History With Activism

When you hear the name Jane Fonda, you likely first think of actor’s long-standing history in Hollywood. The film and TV star started acting all the way back in the 1960s, and since then, she has enjoyed a highly successful and decades-long career in the spotlight. Yet, while many people do indeed recognize Fonda for her iconic roles in movies like “Monster-in-Law” or TV shows like “Grace and Frankie,” she also has a famously long-standing history with activism, too. Much like her acting career, Fonda’s interest in activism started in the ’60s, and it’s a journey that she has followed for her entire life. 

The 2019 HBO documentary “Jane Fonda in Five Acts” partially details Fonda’s long history with activism while also delving into deeper aspects of her personal life. “Oscar-winner Jane Fonda has lived a life marked by controversy, tragedy and transformation, and she’s done it all in the public eye,” the film’s description explains, alluding to some of her most controversial and thought-provoking moments as an activist.

So, what causes and issues has Fonda stood up for most in the past? Scroll down for a closer look inside the world of Fonda’s decades of activism.

Jane Fonda first got involved with activism in the 1960s

Jane Fonda was “pregnant and living in France in 1968” when issues like the Vietnam War and civil unrest piqued her attention, according to Time. Apparently, Fonda was so galvanized by the issues that she moved back home to the United States so she could officially begin her work as an activist.

Through the end of the ’60s and into the ’70s, Fonda was a big name in activism causes. She had already made her mark in Hollywood thanks to films like “Period of Adjustment,” “Hurry Sundown,” and “Joy House,” but she was ready to make marks in other ways, too. According to Time, Fonda made plenty of activist contributions throughout the ’70s, including efforts towards Native American causes and support of the Black Panthers, which even “drew government surveillance.”

The war in Vietnam was raging on at the time, and it was a war that Fonda wanted to be over. She began advocating for the war’s end, and was arrested while coming back from her Canadian speaking tour. According to the Washington Post, Fonda was arrested on suspicions of drug smuggling, and she spent the night in jail. Her mugshot, in which she raises a fist triumphantly, “shaped a generation of women activists.”

Jane Fonda's activism continued well past the Vietnam War

As Jane Fonda continued her anti-Vietnam war activism, one of her most controversial moments occurred. According to Time, Fonda toured North Vietnam in 1972, and during her time there, she implored American troops to “consider their roles in the war.” At one point, Fonda posed for the famous photo in which she sat on an anti-aircraft gun and looked like she was aiming at American planes — which did not sit well with many people, especially Americans.

“It hurts me and it will to my grave that I made a huge, huge mistake that made a lot of people think I was against the soldiers,” she explained at a personal speaking engagement in 2015, via the Guardian, expressing vehement regret about the picture, though also acknowledging that the damage was irreversible.

Despite the backlash she faced, Fonda moved forward and continued her activism throughout the years. According to Marie Claire, Fonda contributed to a number of causes and organizations throughout the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, including the Alzheimer’s Association, Peace Over Violence, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. The outlet also noted that in 1998, Fonda founded her own organization — The Fonda Family Foundation — which focuses on human rights and social services.

Jane Fonda's activism isn't slowing down

While some people may choose to slow down with work or extracurriculars as they get older, Jane Fonda isn’t one of those people. Throughout the 2000s, and now, at 83 years old in 2021, Fonda has continued her activism. As noted by Marie Claire, Fonda has been a long-standing champion for feminism and women’s rights, and in 2000, she became a supporter of V-Day and a member of V-Board, which provides “vision, leadership, and wisdom” to women across the world.

In 2019, Fonda made headlines for her arrest outside the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., where she was protesting against the climate crisis. According to The New York Times, Fonda was arrested for “unlawful demonstration,” though she vowed to return every week for the rest of the year despite the inevitable threat of being arrested over and over again. In an interview with WBUR in 2019, Fonda spoke about her protesting and subsequent arrest. “The point is to call attention to the climate crisis and I can do that without getting arrested,” she said. When asked if she wants to be remembered as an actor or activist, Fonda has one clear answer: “Activist.”

After a lifetime of speaking out, protesting, and donating to countless causes, it’s safe to say that Fonda will no doubt be remembered for her unwavering commitment to activism.

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