• A Big Tent: Correspondent Danna Harman, a veteran Africa reporter, knows all too well how hard it can be to focus Western attention on the troubles that face many of the continent's countries (see story). So when celebrities who – at least at first – don't know the difference between Zambia and Zimbabwe make a big splash, it can be ... dismaying. But writing this series, she says, gave her a new perspective on the phenomenon.
"I have many friends who have spent years in Africa, and we often talk among ourselves about the celebrity factor," says Danna, who was consulted by Jennifer Connelly for the actress's role as a Western reporter in the 2006 film Blood Diamond. "Stars, who come in and spend a day or two visiting a refugee camp or touring an embattled region are able to get more attention for these issues than the rest of us – who might have been writing or talking about them for eons – could ever dream of. It's a strange phenomenon."
But, says Danna, once ego was put aside, they would often realize that the star attention was a good thing – and that some celebrities work hard to learn the issues. "Yes, it is true that NGO workers, journalists, and others would spend years of their lives trying to make a difference, and then these people would fly in and accomplish more," Danna acknowledges. "But it really says more about our culture, that people may pay more attention to stars. And it's amazing the numbers of people who follow what the stars do. So the effect that these people can have for good is astonishing – and a good thing."
– Amelia Newcomb
Assistant World editor