Mr. Beast, World’s Top YouTube Star, Takes Fire for Being ‘White Male Figure’ Who Is ‘Monetizing Kindness’ While Building Wells in Africa

‘I already know I’m gonna get canceled because I uploaded a video helping people,’ Mr. Donaldson says.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images
'Mr. Beast' speaks onstage during the 2023 Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards, March 4, 2023 at Los Angeles. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

In what may be the latest case of the aphorism “no good deed goes unpunished,” the world’s most popular YouTuber, “Mr. Beast,” is again coming under fire for his penchant for doing good deeds.

This time is notable in that Mr. Beast, who’s real name is James “Jimmy” Donaldson, has drawn the ire of Taylor Lorenz, the controversial technology journalist at the Washington Post, for building much-needed drinking wells in deeply impoverished villages in Africa. 

The feud began when Mr. Donaldson posted a video on his channel,  which has 211 million subscribers, chronicling his and his team’s journey through Africa to build 100 wells that will provide clean drinking water for approximately half a million people throughout the continent.

Mr. Donaldson, of Greenville, North Carolina, and his team have made it their trade to do good works and post video of it on the Mr. Beast YouTube channel. By many accounts, building wells in Africa would be considered an amazing investment of not only generosity, but also of labor and time. 

Yet the trip to Africa has been met with pushback.

“I already know I’m gonna get canceled because I uploaded a video helping people,” Mr. Donaldson posted on X, where he has 24.6 million followers. 

Ms. Lorenz responded by saying “No one is ‘canceling’ you for ‘helping people’, you’ve received extremely light criticism in the past for the way you’ve monetized ‘kindness’ content that some vulnerable people found to be exploitative.”

Ms. Lorenz, who has close to 343,000 followers and is currently promoting a book, wrapped up her criticism, saying, “I get how exhausting it is to deal with bad faith interpretations of your work, and I don’t think MrBeast personally is a bad guy at all, but he’s the most powerful YTer & has birthed a generation of ‘kindness’ influencers, so he should have frank discussions on these issues imo.” 

The criticism of Mr. Donaldson’s Africa trip has not only centered on the “monetization of ‘kindness,” as Ms. Lorenz put it. It’s also centered on race and his advent in Africa as a “white savior.” 

Yahoo News reports that “activists say his actions shamed the Kenyan government and helped perpetuate the stereotype that Africa is ‘dependent on handouts.’”

Clean water advocate Saran Kaba Jones, the founder and chief executive of FACE Africa, an organization working to improve water infrastructure and sanitation in sub-Saharan Africa, told CNN: “I’ve been doing this for 15 years, but we’ve been struggling to continue the work because funding, awareness and advocacy all take work.”

She added, “overnight, this person comes along, who happens to be a white male figure with a huge platform, and all of a sudden, he gets all of the attention. It’s kind of frustrating, but it’s also understanding the nature of how the world is.” To date, Mr. Donaldson’s visit to Africa  has gotten over 100 million views. 

Ms. Jones suggests that the wells may not be functional down the road after a few years of use. In his video, Mr. Donaldson says that the spigots that pump water from his wells can provide 3,600 gallons per day and will work “nonstop for thirty years.”  

Mr. Donaldson also claims that he and his organization don’t profit “a dime” from the well-building philanthropy video and that every cent raised will go to building more wells around the world. He is doubling down.

“To be 100 percent clear, I don’t care. I’m always going to use my channel to help people and try to inspire my audience to do the same,” he continued on X. 

Despite the criticism, Mr. Beast fans are supportive of Mr. Donaldson’s random acts of kindness. He claims anyone can do what he’s doing to help impoverished communities. 

“You would think that having an effect of this magnitude would require the resources and funding of a large government,” Mr. Donaldson says in his video. “But that’s not true. Solving this problem is possible and it’s something humanity should all be putting effort in to fix.” 

In his video, African kids light up at the sight of Mr. Donaldson, who engages naturally and with great joy. One of the girls in the Kenyan village of Nairiri says it so plainly: “We say thank you for the water.” 

Not only did the Mr. Beast team install wells to provide clean drinking water for villages in Cameroon, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda and Zimbabwe, they provided brand new computers for one of the village schools, brand new furniture, shelves and books for another, and brand new white boards and projectors in all the classrooms in a school in Nairiri. Every child received a soccer ball. Students at another school all received bikes. 

One of the children asked Mr. Donaldson what the secret of success is.

“To be honest,” he answered, “just find something you love doing and do it for a long period and eventually you’ll succeed.” 


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