“We’re all very concerned about what’s happening in North Korea. I don’t know enough about the situation. I’d, of course, like to know more and I will continue to educate myself on it, and if there’s something I can do, I will certainly do.”
Those words were not uttered by Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton or any politician, but by the hottest Hollywood superstar and one of the most beautiful women in the world, Angelina Jolie!
Wearing a dark blue lace dress by Dolce & Gabbana and nude colored patent pumps by Gianvito Rossi, Jolie ambles into the room in Beverly Hills’ Four Seasons hotel, exuding dignity, humility and serenity. Evidently, this beauty doesn’t conjure up the image of a stateswoman, but her passionate concern for and dedicated support of the victims of political conflicts and natural disasters have gained her so much respect and admiration that in 2001, she was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and in 2007 she was granted a membership in the prestigious Council of Foreign Relations.
Unlike some other Hollywood celebrities, who limit their support to humanitarian causes by making overt donations, Jolie, who runs several charities, is actively involved in the causes that she champions, rallying support from world leaders and raising awareness in the media.
“If I wasn’t able to feel somehow a part of the solution and bring attention to issues when I go to countries, I think it would weigh on me so heavily I certainly have moments where I break down crying and I don’t know why! I can’t sleep at night feeling that I can do something about it and can try to be a part of the solution.”
Having visited a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey last summer, she revealed to me that she is also working quietly behind the scene, talking to Arab and international politicians, urging them to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people and to support them in their struggle for democracy.
The more I talked to Jolie, the more I was impressed by her courage and fearlessness. Undeterred by the perils of war, she has visited some of the most dangerous spots in the world such as the embattled Libyan town, Misrata, to support its people against Gaddafi. She has also patiently posed for photos with Iraqi fans, while visiting terror-stricken Baghdad. The list is too long to fit in this brief article.
The daughter of Hollywood star, Jon Voight, and French model, Marcheline Bertrand, has not endured the suffering of those she is trying to help, nor was she aware of the world’s conflicts beyond the perimeters of her birthplace, Los Angeles. In fact, she was known as the Hollywood wild-child for her outrageous on- and off- screen antics, such as arriving at her first wedding in a T-shirt blood-stained with the name of her groom Jonny Lee Miller, wearing a vial of her second husband’s (Billy Bob Thornton) blood around her neck, decorating her body with exotic tattoos and practicing self mutilation with her collection of knives.
Winning an Oscar for playing the disturbed Lisa Rowe in Girl, Interrupted in 2000 didn’t tame Jolie’s wild spirit, but witnessing the misery of refugees in war-torn Cambodia, while shooting Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in 2001 was her epiphany.
“Since the first time I went to a war zone, I was forever changed,” she says. “I will never be self-destructive again. I will never take for granted that I have enough food to feed my children and my children are safe. I will never ever think of these other things that so often fill our minds, especially in this town (LA), that you see people stressed about and that are just simply not important in life. So I am grateful that years ago I was put in the middle of a conflict zone, where I came face to face with what is really happening in the world.”
Having visited over 40 countries in the past 10 years in her effort to raise awareness of human tragedies around the world, the U.N. Goodwill Ambassador decided last year to make a movie about the early nineties Bosnian war, where some of the most horrific atrocities were committed against men and women, while the international community watched idly with callous helplessness for 3 years before the US agreed to bomb the Serbian positions.
The movie titled In The Land Of Blood And Honey tells the story of a couple – a Bosnian Serb police officer, Danijel (Goran Kostic) and a Bosnian Moslem artist, Ajla (Zana Marjanovic) – whose romantic relationship is, like their country, torn apart by the war, and they end up in the opposite side of the conflict. After being arrested by the Bosnian Serbs, Ajla comes face to face with Danijel, who is now commanding the soldiers who are engaged in raping the women and massacring the men of her people. Torn between his love for Ajla and his loyalty to his people, Danijel walks a fine line between protecting his lover without betraying his people.
The international superstar was only 17 when the war in Bosnia erupted, and she knew very little about it. Hence, in her quest to understand it, she read extensively about the subject and spoke to officials from the United Nations, the government of Bosnia, the US government, journalists who covered the war, and the victims of the war.
“The more I read and researched the former Yugoslavia, the more I was very emotionally affected and I was actually ashamed of myself for knowing very little.”
Eager to find answers about the primal nature of man that could spawn so much violence against others, particularly women, and the impotence of the international community to respond and protect the victims of violence, Jolie wrote the script as a form of private meditation, without envisaging turning it into a movie.
“I never thought about being a director,” the Oscar-winning actress stresses. “But when suddenly it was a reality and people from all sides of the conflict decided to come together to make it, I felt compelled that it was an important story and I should stick by it.”
But fierce resistance in Bosnia to Jolie’s project quickly emerged when the press falsely reported about her intention to tell a love story between a Muslim woman and her Serbian rapist. Appreciating the sensitivity of the subject matter, Jolie responded by offering the script to Bosnian officials, who eventually approved it and granted her a permit to film the required exterior scenes in their country. The movie, however, was mostly shot in neighbouring Hungary, which offered better replicas of Bosnians locations, particularly Sarajevo, which had been mutilated beyond recognition during the war.
“The war was only 15 years ago, so sensitivities are running high and I have a deep sympathy for people that are nervous, but I asked at that time that people give us the chance to tell the story. It’s frustrating when somebody doesn’t understand your intentions or accuses you of something, but you have to hold strong and know that your heart is in the right place and the final product will be something that is what you intended and that they be patient.”
To ensure authenticity and balance in telling her tale, Jolie cast actors from all sides of the conflict and from different backgrounds. Listening to her actors’ war stories, she drew valuable knowledge and gained deeper understanding of the conflict that helped shape the film into its final form.
“It was so important for me that this would be a film that they would feel that they’d want to support and feel that it’s good and healthy to bring this dialogue.”
In spite of her firm conviction in the integrity and the message of her film, one week before the first screening of the movie, Jolie completely broke down under the heavy weight of the pressure to do justice to the victims of that hideous war.
“Brad (Pitt) found me crying and I said ‘I’m afraid that I’ve failed. I’m afraid that I’ve failed this subject matter and these people that put their faith in me.’ I’ve never felt more pressure because I’ve never done anything that’s meant this much to me and that’s had so many people I care about, who are now my friends, and a whole country that is watching all of us. But I try to just live a good honest life and focus on my family and do the best I can.”
Indeed, Jolie and her famous partner, Brad Pitt, are so attached to their 6 kids that they take them with them wherever they go. In fact, Brad and the kids joined Jolie in Hungary, while filming In the Land of Blood and Honey.
“They came and went to school in Hungary, and then they came to visit the set after school,” she smiles. “When we had a break, the cast would come and play soccer with my kids and we would all laugh. We would do anything that brought levity and kind of love because it was so dark. Off set, I was happily with my kids, hugging, probably smothering them with love because of the nature of the subject matter.”
During the hour of our conversation, the 37-year-old actress discussed with deep passion, profound understanding and genuine concern, the troubles of the world from the debt crisis in Europe to the revolutions in the middle-east, from rape camps in the Congo and famine in Africa to the plight of refugees in Cambodia.
“I am very concerned about the future,” exclaims Jolie, like a caring queen broods her kingdom. “I feel you have to be somewhat optimistic because if you lose hope we lose everything and we start to crumble.”
In spite of her grand authoritative words, there is no perceptible arrogance in Jolie’s voice. To the contrary, the humanitarian celebrity speaks with utter humility, sincere innocence and complete selflessness.
“I’m just trying to be a good person and learning about all aspects of life,” she says. “We both live the Hollywood life, but this is not our lives, so I try to give myself that education and travel. I’ve loved being an actor and I appreciate the blessing I’ve gotten from being part of it, but it is a small part of what is happening around the world. So that perspective has never been lost on me.”
Having said all that, Jolie insists that her family precedes everything else in her life. “I wake up first and foremost as a mom,” she smiles.
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