Can a celebrity be a “disrupter,” promoting strategic partnerships to bring new ideas and funding to revitalize the development field—or are celebrities just charismatic ambassadors for big business? Examining the role of the rich and famous in development and humanitarianism, Batman Saves the Congo argues that celebrities do both, and that understanding why and how yields insight into the realities of neoliberal development.
In 2010, entertainer Ben Affleck, known for his superhero performance as Batman, launched the Eastern Congo Initiative to bring a new approach to the region’s development. This case study is at the center of Batman Saves the Congo. Affleck’s organization operates with special access, diversified funding, and significant support of elites within political, philanthropy, development, and humanitarianism circuits. This sets it apart from other development organizations. With his convening power, Affleck has built partnerships with those inside and outside development, staking bipartisan political ground that is neither charity nor aid, but “good business.” Such visible and recognizable celebrity humanitarians are occupying the public domain yet not engaging meaningfully with any public, argues Batman Saves the Congo. They are an unruly bunch of new players in development that amplify business solutions.
Some teaser articles:
2020 “Caffeinated Solutions as Neoliberal Politics: How Celebrities Create and Promote Partnerships for Peace and Development.” Perspectives on Politics. 18:1: 60-75.
2018 With Lisa Ann Richey. “Advocacy Narratives and Celebrity Engagement: The Case of Ben Affleck in Congo.” Human Rights Quarterly. Volume 40. Number 2: 260-286. DOI: 10.1353/hrq.2018.0015
2016 With Lisa Ann Richey. “Celebritizing Conflict: How Ben Affleck Sells the Congo to Americans.” Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism and Development. Volume 7, Issue 1: 27-46. Special collection on “Humanitarianism and Human Rights: Conceptualizing Development, Security, and Justice in Africa” edited by Amal Fadlalla.
2015 “Ben Affleck Goes to Washington: Celebrity Advocacy, Access, and Influence.” In Celebrity Humanitarianism and North-South Relations: Politics, Place and Power. Edited by Lisa Ann Richey (Oxford: Routledge), 131-148.