Ben Affleck On Acting and Activism
By Gayle Fee
Affleck is passionate about his causes, but he’s well aware that the public looks at celebrity do-gooders with a certain degree of skepticism.
“Obviously people hear about a celebrity in Africa, and they kind of roll their eyes,” he says. “They’ve been conditioned to think it’s insincere, and there are definitely reasons to be critical or suspicious. But there are also people over there doing really good things, and I wanted to be part of that.”
To that end, Affleck has made a number of trips to Africa—Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, the Republic of Congo, Burundi, Uganda and Tanzania. He shot a mini-documentary on the Eastern Congo for the United Nations Human Rights Council and saw people living in “the worst conditions imaginable.”
“Stuff we would never even contemplate happening to us in the United States… living in camps or having to endure a world without security, where there’s always the threat of being [attacked or] raped,” he recalls. “I also saw people doing amazing things there. Local African organizations that were getting child soldiers out of militias, helping women who have been the victims of gender-based violence, founding schools, starting radio stations and giving tape recorders to women in the bush so they can tell their stories, or bringing together groups of women to try to galvanize the legal system to protect them.”
Struck by these successes, Affleck started the Eastern Congo Initiative to support the local organizations fighting the good fight on the ground. “These are the people who deserve the most support,” he says, “these local organizations that are doing incredible work, kind of in secret.”
With the help of pals “who have enough money to write me a big check,” Affleck raised several million dollars; the Eastern Congo Initiative made its first grants this summer.
LEFT: Affleck at Heal Africa’s hospital in Goma, which provides care to survivors of gender-based violence. RIGHT: Affleck at Goma prison in the Democratic Republic of Congo, meeting with a convicted perpetrator of sexual violence in March 2010
CLOSE TO HOME
But Affleck also wanted to do something for the needy here at home, who face the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. For several years he’s been actively involved in Feeding America, the nation’s leading hunger-relief organization.
“When I did Gone Baby Gone in Boston, I was going house-to-house scouting locations in Dorchester, Southie, Lynn, Revere and Everett, and I met people who were having trouble making rent, buying food or keeping the electricity on, and that just blew me away,” he says. “I didn’t realize that in this town where I grew up, there were so many people struggling at that level. Feeding America is a great organization, and I’ve tried to support them as much as possible because there are people who are less fortunate right here, our neighbors and our friends.”
There’s a scene in The Town when Affleck’s character walks through a food bank in the Charlestown projects. “I just thought it was important to keep that image,” he says, “[to show] that this is a place where people are struggling. You know, people in Boston are proud. They wouldn’t go getting something for free if they didn’t need it.”
photograph by matthias vriens-mcgrath/trunkarchive.com; styling by arianne tunney for tracey mattingly; barbara kinney for eastern congo initiative (affleck in africa)