Ryan Gosling shared his personal experiences from the front lines of Congo’s struggle for human rights in a discussion at UCLA on Dec. 10.
The Academy Award-nominated actor appeared at an event sponsored by UCLA School of Law’s Promise Institute for Human Rights to mark International Human Rights Day and promote a new book, “Congo Stories: Battling Five Centuries of Exploitation and Greed,” which features photographs he took there.
At the Fowler Museum at UCLA, Gosling joined the book’s authors, Fidel Bafilemba and John Prendergast, and contributor Chouchou Namegabe to discuss the devastating impact of global superpowers’ ongoing activities in the central African nation.
Gosling said his lens caught people demonstrating what he called “small but really clear expressions of hope.”
“A girl getting dressed and walking to school. Or a kid dressing up like Spider-Man. Or a woman bringing home newborn twins,” he said. “Even a young man sort of cleaning his white sneakers before going out to hang out with his friends. There was this theme of hope … this refusal to be broken.”
Prendergast, the founding director of the nonprofit Enough Project, explained that the nation has been devastated by an array of internal and external forces.
“Human traffickers, kings, colonists, presidents, tycoons, bankers, mining magnates, arms dealers, mineral smugglers, elephant poachers — all have colluded with certain leaders in the Congo, the Benedict Arnolds of the Congo, if you will, to loot the people and the natural resources of this incredibly rich country,” he said.
But he stressed that the people of the nation are “battling back,” a fact that he observed on trips to the region with people including Gosling.
Namegabe, a journalist who founded the grassroots initiative Anzafrika to empower women in places where they are most threatened, recounted the horrors that she witnessed in her home country. But she also shared her reasons for optimism, including the fact that fellow Congolese activist Denis Mukwege had been awarded a share of the Nobel Peace Prize earlier in the day.
Bafilemba encouraged the audience members to join him in his work to improve the lives of the people in the region — some of whom, he said, work at gunpoint to mine minerals that are used in electronic devices purchased by American consumers.
Promise Institute executive director Kate Mackintosh led the panel discussion, and Dr. Eric Esrailian, a faculty member of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA who is also a filmmaker and human rights activist, delivered opening remarks.