Ben Affleck is set to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today to testify on the mass killings in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That’s right, Batman will serve as an expert on the Congo.
But the Gigli star is actually pretty knowledgeable about the country. He founded the East Congo Initiative, an advocacy and grant-making nonprofit organization in 2010, testified before the House Foreign Affairs Africa Subcommittee in 2011 and worked on this report in 2008 for ABC’s Nightline. Affleck’s nonprofit prefers to connect donors directly with Congolese nonprofits, rather than channeling money into international NGOs, who sometimes take years for money to trickle down into action.
Affleck’s inclusion at the hearing, however, opened the actor and the Senate up to criticism, a common reaction to celebrities serving as ‘experts’ in Washington D.C. or the United Nations. On the one hand, celebrities can be used by Congress and international organizations, to draw attention to hearings in the press, as strategic leverage in the policy-development process (see Elmo testifying for music education programs in 2002). But there are also celebrities, like Affleck, who dedicate time to really learning about the cause they advocate for. Let’s take a look at a few:
1. George Clooney
Clooney testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March 2012 on the violence along the border of Sudan and South Sudan. Prior to his testimony, Clooney contracted malaria in Sudan, and wrote and directed a video about the trip for the Enough Project. A few days after his 2012 testimony, Clooney was arrested (pictured) at a protest outside of the Sudan embassy in Washington, D.C.
2. Christopher Reeve
Reeve testified in Congress five times (1997, twice in 2000, 2002 and 2003) on the subject of embryonic stem cell research, and never once mentioned his career as an actor. Between 1999 and the time of his death in 2004, Reeve’s paralysis foundation provided $40 million to spinal cord research.
3. Angelina Jolie
U.N. goodwill ambassador and special envoy for refugees, Jolie testified to the U.N. Security Council on war-zone rape. "If the … council sets rape and sexual violence in conflict as a priority it will become one and progress will be made. If you do not, this horror will continue," she told the Security Council. Soon after her testimony, the Security Council adopted a resolution “demanding the immediate cessation of all acts of sexual violence by all parties of armed conflict.” The actress has long committed herself to public humanitarian work, visiting refugees in Iraq and even traveling to Jordan’s Za’atri refugee camp (pictured), the second-largest refugee camp for displaced Syrians.
4. Billie Jean King
The tennis pro has worked throughout her career to promote gender equality and female empowerment. Beyond her famous Battle of the Sexes tennis match, where she defeated Bobby Riggs, King is dedicated to empowering women, particularly via microfinancing through sports. King testified in support of Title IX in 1973 and founded the Women’s Sports Foundation in 1974, just two years after the law was enacted.