“I didn’t know what this would become,” Ryan Gosling told the audience at George Washington University on Thursday night. “But there was this expectation that we would share these pictures and tell these stories and pass that on.”
Gosling is an Oscar-nominated movie star. He’s also an A-list charmer so capable of melting hearts that he inspired a meme (“Hey Girl”). But on a trip to Congo, Gosling found he represented something else to people there. In their eyes he was, above all, an agent of change.
From his chair onstage at Bett’s Theater, Gosling recounted his visit to the Central African nation, which has been ravaged for centuries over its abundant natural resources. From ivory to uranium, the country’s best assets have also proved to be its greatest liabilities, as they’ve sparked myriad wars in which civilians, especially women, have paid a big price, said activist John Prendergast, whom Gosling joined onstage.
While the “La La Land" star didn’t have a set intention in mind for the photos he snapped during his trip, Gosling felt compelled to document the stories he heard and the hardships he witnessed. What inspired him most were the expressions of hope he saw.
“One thing I was struck by having heard these stories ... was this theme of an unwavering resilience and an unwillingness to be broken,” he told the audience, which comprised mostly university students. He described feeling a responsibility to use his platform to share those accounts with the world. The chance to do so presented itself when Prendergast, a longtime friend of Gosling’s, co-authored a book with Congolese field researcher Fidel Bafilemba titled “Congo Stories: Battling Five Centuries of Exploitation and Greed.” Gosling’s shots fill out the pages of the book, which was released Dec. 4.
Gosling is touring the United States with Prendergast, Bafilemba and Congolese radio journalist Chouchou Namegabe, who thanked Gosling, along with other notables such as actress Robin Wright and fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, for the attention he’s helped generate for her country’s plights.