Batman Saves the Congo

Batman Saves the Congo: How Celebrities Disrupt the Politics of Development (2021)

Authors: Alexandra Cosima Budabin & Lisa Ann Richey from University of Minnesota Press, available in June 2021

Can a celebrity be a “disrupter,” promoting strategic partnerships to bring new ideas and funding to revitalize the development field—or are celebrities just charismatic ambassadors for big business? Examining the role of the rich and famous in development and humanitarianism, Batman Saves the Congo argues that celebrities do both, and that understanding why and how yields insight into the realities of neoliberal development.

In 2010, entertainer Ben Affleck, known for his superhero performance as Batman, launched the Eastern Congo Initiative to bring a new approach to the region’s development. This case study is central to Batman Saves the Congo. Affleck’s organization operates with special access, diversified funding, and significant support of elites within political, philanthropic, development, and humanitarian circuits. This sets it apart from other development organizations. With his convening power, Affleck has built partnerships with those inside and outside development, staking bipartisan political ground that is neither charity nor aid but “good business.” Such visible and recognizable celebrity humanitarians are occupying the public domain yet not engaging meaningfully with any public, argues Batman Saves the Congo. They are an unruly bunch of new players in development who amplify business solutions.

As elite political participants, celebrities shape development practices through strategic partnerships that are both an innovative way to raise awareness and funding for neglected causes and a troubling trend of unaccountable elite leadership in North–South relations. Batman Saves the Congo helps illuminate the power of celebritized business solutions and the development contexts they create.

Find the book here. You can also read articles from our project here.

Some photos from my everyday life during my fieldwork in Kinshasa.