Movie star George Clooney was led away in handcuffs after storming the Sudanese Embassy protesting the actions of the country's president Omar Al-Bashir, an alleged war criminal.
Clooney made the rounds in Washington this week, hoping his superstar wattage will help shine a light on the situation in Sudan. The actor testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and held private meetings with the Secretary of State and President Obama about the African nation's dire humanitarian situation and the Obama administration's policy. He led a protest today outside of Sudan's embassy calling on Omar Al-Bashir, an alleged war-criminal, to stop the violence and allow humanitarian aid into the country.
The Hollywood actor has been working with the John Prendergast from the advocacy group the Enough Project for years. He co-founded the Sudan Sentinel Project, which tracks human rights abuses on the border of Sudan and South Sudan using satellite cameras. Clooney's said in the past that he wants to draw attention to the atrocities Al-Bashir's allegedly directed against his own people for decades, to "make him famous."
Celebrities Vs. War Lords
Clooney's not the only celebrity to get involved with human rights causes. Angelina Jolie may be one of the most well-known movie star philanthropists. She's a good will ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Committee, and has spoken out and given money to numerous causes. She attended the reading of the first verdict from the International Criminal Court this week, finding Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga guilty of using child soldiers. Jolie had been part of the process to bring Lubanga to justice. She visited the court three times during the trial and funded the Lubanga Chronicles, a program that used written articles, radio and the web to inform the Congolese public and the international community about the case.
"Perhaps [this] verdict of guilty provides some measure of comfort for the victims of Mr Lubanga's actions," Jolie said in a statement. "Most of all it sends a strong message against the use of child soldiers."
Actor Ben Affleck launched his own organization the East Congo Initiative, focused on supporting and funding local humanitarian groups in Eastern Congo. He too has testified before Congress and met with leaders in Washington, even traveling to the Democratic Republic of Congo with Cindy McCain, the wife of Senator John McCain. His friend Matt Damon has started an organization focused on access to clean water in the developing world. Actor Don Cheadle has also fought for human rights and against genocide with the Enough Project.
Making a warlord famous was also the goal of Invisible Children, the group behind the Kony2012 video which focused on capturing Ugandan rebel leader Joseph Kony. After 80 million hits and dozens of news stories it's clear that despite the controversy over the accuracy of the campaign, Invisible Children did accomplish at least one goal- Kony is now a household name. Arguably the biggest influence didn't come from academics or experts on Africa but from tweets by Justin Bieber and P. Diddy.
"Because attention and resources are always worth something, once celebrities bring attention an organization can try to command it," says David Meyers, a professor of Sociology at the University of California, who has researched the effects of celebrity activism. "Even if he doesn't understand the issue it's probably a good thing anyway."
So are we in an age of Celebrity Foreign Policy?
"This is nothing new in American culture. If you look at the civil rights march on Washington in 1963 you see photos of Sidney Poitier and Charlton Hesston," However, celebrities ponying up money for causes may not be new, but starting your own organization is."
Meyers says just like in politics, there's more money within the celebrity world today, and stars can use that money to further their causes in new ways.
"They can be like the Koch brothers and George Soros and hiring academics and people they trust to do the work they are passionate about," says Meyers.
But there is a downside to celebrity activism. Meyers says entertainers taking on causes without knowing about the subject, or primarily to boost their own image, can backfire, hurting the star's credibility and drawing negative attention to the issue or organization. He cites the fan backlash over Kelly Clarkson's tweet supporting Ron Paul as an example. "Anyone can tweet about anything. You have to get celebrities to say something that is of consequence."