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This story first appeared in the Aug. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Ask most diplomats to name the world’s most troubled nations, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo would be near the top. Twenty-five years of war have devastated the country, giving rise to ruthless warlords who have created a reign of sexual violence against women and girls.
It’s the prevalence of rape in the Congo that convinced House of Cards actress Robin Wright that she had to take action. Teaming up with human rights activist John Prendergast (who advised George Clooney and Don Cheadle on their advocacy for the people of Darfur) and his Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Enough Project, Wright has worked to raise awareness of the issues involving the Congolese civil wars. Prendergast and Wright connected six years ago, when, she says, “I was doing a movie about Africa. John was our adviser. The movie didn’t go, but we remained friends, and he said, ‘Would you mind coming and introducing a film for me about the crisis in the eastern Congo?’ ” Two years ago, with Prendergast as her guide, she visited safe houses and rehab centers for rape victims in the eastern Congo, then began appearing at forums and on talk shows to speak about the prevalence of sexual violence.
Prendergast credits Wright as one of the voices that helped put pressure on the U.S. government to appoint former Sen. Russ Feingold as a special representative to the Congo in June. The Enough Project’s Raise Hope campaign against conflict minerals — stolen and illicitly exported by militias and foreign armies — also is credited with changing corporate behavior. As Wright notes, the gold, tungsten and rare minerals mined in the eastern Congo are used “in everything from your iPhone to your toaster.” Earlier this year, Apple announced it would police its supply chain.
Prendergast doesn’t buy the dismissal of Hollywood activists as dilettantes: “I think stars can make a huge difference and bring a spotlight. They’re also master recruiters. When people who otherwise don’t have any idea what’s happening in the world are asked by celebrities to get involved, they become activists.”
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