“IT WAS AS IF SOMEONE SLAPPED ME ACROSS THE FACE AND SAID, ‘OH MY GOD, YOU SILLY YOUNG WOMAN FROM CALIFORNIA, DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW DIFFICULT THE WORLD REALLY IS FOR SO MANY PEOPLE?”
While in Cambodia back in 2001 filming Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Angelina Jolie had a life-changing experience—she became aware of the suffering of those living in war-ravaged nations. “My eyes started to open,” she said of the experience. The visit not only led her to contact the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, but to adopt her eldest son Maddox. In the years that followed Jolie visited upward of 30 countries to assist refugees and push legislation on behalf of those silenced by war and conflict observes Priya Kumar
“Back in June of this year Angelina Jolie was appointed Honorary Dame Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael and St George by Queen Elizabeth II. Besides being inthe company of humanitarians, philanthropists, professors and civil servants, the mega-watt celebrity stood out for another reason entirely—Jolie is only one of a handful of US citizens to receive such an honour by the British establishment.
The remarkable accolade coincided with Jolie’s trip to London to host the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. Co-chaired by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, the summit aimed to urge nations with conflict zones around the world to strengthen their domestic laws to convict perpetrators of these crimes. Perhaps what’s most surprising about her role as special envoy to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees isn’t so much what she’s accomplished, but what led to her to champion this movement for world peace.
“I realized how completely naïve I was to think I had a difficult life,” Angelina Jolie said of her first umanitarian trip at the age of 26 to Sierra Leone. “It was as if someone slapped me across the face and said,‘Oh my God, you silly young woman from California, do you have any idea how difficult the world really is for so many people?’” At the time Jolie was already a twice-divorced, tattooed Hollywood wild child with a taste for
the darker side of life. The daughter of renowned Hollywood actor Jon Voight and French-Canadian Marcheline Bertrand, who passed away in 2007 at the age of 56, Jolie was born with a proverbial silver spoon in her mouth.
Her childhood was far from idyllic however; her parents split when she was still in her infancy and she and her
mother had a bond that mirrored more of a best friendship than that of one between a mother and daughter. She married British actor Jonny Lee Miller at the age of 20 and boldy wore black rubber pants and a tee painted with Miller’s name in her own blood in lieu of a traditional wedding dress. The marriage was short-lived and at the age of 24 she married actor Billy Bob Thornton who was almost 20 years her senior. For their first anniversary she gifted him a joint cemetery plot in Louisiana. They divorced in 2003 after 18 months of marriage.
“In 2001, while filming Lara Croft: Tomb Raider she found herself in Cambodia. It has been said the role forced her to rehabilitate herself from her past wild lifestyle given the physical demands of the role. She spent time visiting orphanages in the South East Asian country with the hope of educating herself and bringing awareness to the plight of the nation. Instead, she found Cambodia gave her more than she could have ever asked for. When visiting one particular children’s home in Phnom Penh she saw a young orphaned boy, only seven-months-old at the time. She applied for the boy’s adoption on her second visit to Cambodia for a UNHCR field mission, but was initially denied in December of 2001 due to the US government’s new legislations banning adoptions from Cambodia amidst human trafficking allegations. She eventually went through Namibia to complete the adoption, where she was filming Beyond Borders (2003).
The adoption of her eldest son brought clarity to the once unpredictable renegade actress and she appeared to finally to settle down. Yet, in typical Jolie-fashion, it was her choice of partner that once again turned heads. In 2004 she was cast opposite Brad Pitt in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the spy thriller about a married couple of spies who are commissioned to take hits out on one another. Their chemistry was palpable both on and off camera; Pitt was married to Jennifer ‘America’s Sweetheart’ Aniston at the time who also so happened to be the world’s biggest movie star.
While their relationship closely followed the breakdown of the Pitt-Aniston marriage, Pitt denied it was a messy affair, insisting his breakup with Aniston was amicable.
Later that year she and Pitt adopted Zahara Marley from Ethiopia and she was soon pregnant with a daughter of her own. Today she and Pitt collectively have a family that can only be described as a rainbow Brady Bunch, half of whom are their biological children, and the other half adopted from conflict zones around the world. She and Pitt take turns doing films so that the kids always have one parent in command at all times.
Her uniquely constructed family was no accident. Each nation her non-biological children were adopted from were and still are conflict zones where she spent time in the field helping those left destitute by war and famine. “I feel very, very fortunate that I started traveling with work, and my eyes were opened through meeting people of other countries and seeing what life was like for them… [I realized] that I couldn’t just rely on, you know, what was being taught to me at school or basic news, that I needed to go out and reallytry to see for myself, and met a lot of amazing people,” she says of her experiences in the field.
Over the course of her career as a humanitarian she also met with Afghan refugees in Pakistan, to whom she
donated $1 million in aid—the largest donation made to the UNHCR by any private individual. When she takes trips into the field she covers not only all the costs related to the full mission she is on, but also lives in the same basic conditions as all the UNHCR staff she travels with.
Just like her efforts in humanitarianism, her Technicolor family is also flourishing: “Mad[dox]’s a real intellectual, which I can take no credit for genetically. He’s great at school, great at history. He feels like
he could be a writer or travel the world and learn about places and things,” Jolie says of her eldest son. The dashing now-12-year-old even has a girlfriend. “He’s dating,” Jolie recently admitted. “She’s great. I won’t embarrass him. She’s lovely. She lives in England. She’s very cool.”
She says growing up she was a lot like her first biological child, Shiloh. “I used to get dressed up in costumes and jump around. But at some point, I got closed off, darker. I don’t remember anything happening. I think you just get hit with realities of certain things in life, think too much, start to realize the world isn’t as you wished it would be, so you deepen. Then, as I had kids and got older—being goofy, lighter— it all came back.” When her twins Vivienne Marcheline and Knox Leon were born back in 2008, she sold their first photos to a magazine for a staggering $14 million donation to the Jolie-Pitt Foundation.
If there is any trace of her former volatile ferocity, it has been channeled into doing good for those virtually paralyzed by violence. If there is one thing Jolie would want to be known for in the future it would not be her ability to sellout movie theaters for weeks at a time. Rather, to make the world a more peaceful place.