It’s not a lie that DR Congo is a fashionable tragedy story as of late. Celebrities and others have latched on to it as a way to get their name out as doing good in the world by bringing light to the issues there. Well, add to that list one Ben Affleck whose reportage appeared on ABC last month.
In all fairness, Ben’s work is pretty good when taken from the perspective that an American was responsible for it. If you want to judge for yourself before reading more, you can watch Part 1 and Part 2.
Finished watching? Okay, good because I wanted to say that there is something of an honesty to this piece that he spearheaded. You get the feeling that he is a person with the means to do pretty much whatever he wants and he was curious about DR Congo, so he went there to actually try to understand, which is something most people don’t do. He covers the country (mostly the east) from the viewpoint of what he sees. He even tries to put a positive message at the end by saying that there is hope, which of course there is, because there is always hope.
That being said, this report says nothing new. Much like the flood of redundant coverage of Panzi Hospital, Affleck is treading on a path worn deeply by those who have come before him. Maybe this reaches out to Americans somehow as Ben is a big name and he might appeal to the everyday person more than someone from academic or NGO circles. But the one really big point in all of this and why it is so unabashedly American is that the subjects of the video are not allowed to speak in their own voices. Ben becomes a mouthpiece for them, guiding we the viewers. Much like Lisa F. Jackson, no matter what good intentions he may have had when starting the project it comes across as Ben Affleck wanting to show what Ben Affleck can do and what place Ben Affleck went to. At one point, he even seems to me to come across as falling prey to the, “I’m here to save African babies!” syndrome that many who visit the region do.
I do respect what Ben is trying to do, but it’s a shame that some of these things happened. I don’t know if he watched work like Lumo or Darwin’s Nightmare before going, but there is a lot to be learned from films like these. They allow the narration and story to happen from the subjects of the film and thus, it’s much more engrossing and powerful work.
There are other little bits that I didn’t like in how this story was presented, but they are quite subjective, so I won’t get in to them unless people feel like commenting. I just really wish that people could get Bernard Kalume’s job title correct though. Bernard is the fellow helping Ben with translations out in the bush. He is not a “contractor with the UN”. He is a fulltime employee with the UN who friends of mine know well and I would have met had he still been in Bukavu and not up in Goma. I’m told that he’s a great and extremely capable guy who speaks English, French, Swahili, and Kinyar Rwanda. In short, he’s very smart and does his job well. Yet, he never gets credited as being a fulltime employee. The only reason that this must be the case is because it would paint the UN in a light that was less than negative and we just couldn’t have that now, could we?
DR Congo and Ben Affleck are this Summer's Fashion