Last weekend, I became totally engrossed in a Vanity Fair article from November 2014, about uber-celebrity, Angelina Jolie. The article was brimming with praise, and discussed Jolie's major directorial feat, the 2014 film Unbroken (which was snubbed for a director nomination at the Oscars – much to everybody's surprise) as well as her personal life and her extensive, passionate humanitarian work.
The article left me with two lingering questions about Jolie. Firstly, how is it possible that somebody with a face as perfect as hers exists? Secondly, is she actually a humanitarian?
The article impressed me largely because it was written by Janine Di Giovanni, a woman who, among other things is currently a consultant on Syria to the UNHCR, and a senior policy manager at the Centre for Conflict, Resolution, and Recovery for the School of Public Policy at Central European University. She has also been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world of armed violence by the organisation, Action on Armed Violence, and she is also featured in Bearing Witness, a documentary that profiles female war correspondents.
I feel like, in general, we reserve a certain amount of skepticism for celebrities who are (or, at least declare) that they're humanitarians. It's sort of like when my wealthy friends say that they've been on an African safari – it's like, yeeaah I know you went there, but I'm suspicious that all you actually did was look out of your hotel window at some giraffes.
Celebrity humanitarian work just seems so intrinsically associated with ego (there have even been critics who have dubbed it a "recolonisation" of the third world). Furthermore, it appears to be so mired by privilege that we have trouble consolidating it as anything of genuine value. For Jolie, this preconception was hardly helped by a 2011 Louis Vuitton advertisement that depicted the actor with a ludicrously expensive handbag in front of a Cambodian swampland.
But here was Di Giovanni, a woman who has dedicated her life to protecting the lives of those caught in conflict, commending Jolie's tireless effort in humanitarian and aid work. And just to dismantle the Louis Vuitton debacle, Di Giovanni reports that whilst visiting conflict zones, "She packs lightly and often travels with one bag – a valuable lesson from working in humanitarian organisations and having to jump in and out of helicopters in remote locales". It's clear that Jolie has an unfeigned interest in helping others, an interest that she is perhaps even more dedicated to than anything to do with the entertainment industry these days.
After witnessing the effects of a humanitarian crisis in Cambodia firsthand during the filming of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in 2001, Jolie began visiting refugee camps internationally and donated $US1 million to UNHCR. She currently works in the position of special envoy to Antonio Gutterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, has taken part in over 40 missions in 30 different countries and also decided to get a pilot's license along the way, to assist in carrying aid workers and food supplies around the world.
I think we'd all like to believe that if we achieve massive amounts of fame and money, we'd do the same, but I'm fairly sure that if I were in Angelina Jolie's position, I would have seriously Bieber'd out by now – having taken to writhing around in giant piles of cash and blow all day.
So, who are the other celebrity names worth mentioning? Who are the people genuinely committing to using their money and status to improving the lives of others? And most importantly, who are the people submitting themselves for charitable work without the ulterior motive of regaining relevance or say, public favour after a DUI?
Here are my top three.
1) George Clooney
Star of the Ocean's 11 trilogy and international handsome man, George Clooney dedicates a lot of time and money into stopping international human rights atrocities and helping those suffering in poverty. He founded the organization, Not On Our Watch, with a host of other actors with the main goal of stopping the genocide in Sudan. He has also spent time in Chad and Sudan to draw attention to Dafur refugees and has called on the European Union to take "decisive action" in the region.
Clooney consistently uses the media and open to letters to call out President Omar al-Bashir for crimes against humanity. He even uses all of that cash he's scraping from those hopelessly cheesy Nespresso ads to fund his organisation, Satellite Sentinel Project, a surveillance project that tracks Sudan's vicious army in order to try and warn civilians of imminent attacks. He was arrested in 2012 outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington D.C whilst staging a protest.
I think if George and Amal don't end up breeding, it would be an unforgivable injustice for humanity.
2) Emma Watson
Because, obviously. Watson dedicates a huge amount of time to promoting education for girls in the third world – visiting countries such as Zambia and Bangladesh to do so. She has also served as an ambassador for Camped International, which aims to educate girls in rural Africa. In July 2014, Watson made her famous speech to launch the UN Women #HeforShe campaign designed to put an end to gender inequality internationally. She has since used her position as UN Goodwill Ambassador to visit Uruguay to encourage women to be more politically involved.
Ten points to Gryffindor! (I'm sorry.)
3) Ben Affleck
In 2010, after visiting the Democratic Republic of the Congo numerous times, Ben Affleck established the Eastern Congo Initiative, that works towards helping survivors of sexual violence, returning and reintegrating child soldiers back into their communities, increasing healthcare and education, as well as promoting economic opportunities.
Affleck has also appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to discuss the Congo and has also openly called for the United States to put pressure on the United Nations to take up a more influential role in the country. Affleck has immersed himself in the country, meeting with Congolese leaders, child soldiers, refugees and even ex-warlords to gain a comprehensive picture of how he can help the region.
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