Foreign Policy broke the story earlier this week that actor/director/Mr. Jennifer Garner/honorary-Ivy-Leaguer Ben Affleck is scheduled to testify before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Congo on Wednesday.
And while young staffers and interns are positively brimming with excitement, not everyone is thrilled that Affleck is going to be walking the hallowed halls of the Senate office buildings.
He’s part of the worldly-actor trio (which includes George Clooney and Matt Damon) who have garnered (pun intended) a great deal of attention for humanitarian issues. Critics think that celebrities advocating on the Hill are a mere distraction and a ploy for politicians to stroke their own egos by summoning Hollywood’s biggest and best.
There are two major factors that critics are pointing to when dismissing Affleck’s legitimacy as an expert witness on the Congo. 1) He’s an actor, and 2) he directed a movie – Argo – that misrepresented the role that foreign governments played in helping six American diplomats escape from Iran unharmed during the hostage crisis.
First of all, just because you’re an actor doesn’t mean you’re an uneducated dimwit. Affleck may not have graduated from college, but he’s been publicly discussing issues related to the Congo for years. He even co-founded the Eastern Congo Initiative, an American non-profit that tackles humanitarian issues in the Congo, back in 2010. The ECI not only advocates on behalf of people from that region, but also supplies grants to local organizations to help victims of sexual violence, to help provide children with healthcare, and to facilitate peace amongst communities.
Second of all, Argo wasn’t a documentary. It was a scripted movie, and Affleck didn’t even write the script. While it was wrong for him to not at least draw attention to the fact that certain key facts were changed for the sake of storytelling, it’s not a reason to discredit him from talking about a foreign policy issue ever again.
Affleck’s creation and support of ECI doesn’t make him the leading expert on the Congo by any means. There are scholars and practitioners who’ve been studying this conflict day in and day out for several years. And those experts will be testifying before the Committee, too. They can call out Affleck if he says something wrong or stupid. The Committee isn’t just going to take what Affleck says and blindly follow his policy suggestions. His testimony, along with the other expert witnesses’ testimonies, will be taken into consideration. Continue reading