Monday, May. 08, 2006

Angelina Jolie

Recently, I took my 13-year-old daughter Maddy to a New York City event honoring Angelina Jolie. Every parent will relate to the fact that Maddy often finds the world of celebrity magazines more interesting than the world of her father — which in my case centers on the United Nations and its work fighting poverty. That night Angelina brought those two worlds together. Maddy was awed by how Angelina used her celebrity to lift all of us beyond the glamour of a Manhattan ballroom and make us confront the grim realities of poverty in the farthest corners of the globe.

That ability to transcend worlds has something to do with Angelina's movie-star charisma—but it also says something about her diligence and grit. Angelina, 30, spends a great deal of time in the developing world, visiting refugee camps, speaking and listening to the men, women and children she is working to help. Those people, Angelina explained, "have seen so much, they've felt so much pain — lost more than anyone could bear, and yet they contain joy of life and appreciation for small things we often forget." It was a further indication of Angelina's humanity that she stopped to listen and talk to Maddy as the city's power brokers hovered impatiently, awaiting their brush with celebrity.

Angelina's commitment as goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has pushed her to speak out about root causes — economic failure and lack of justice. She urged me relentlessly to meet her last year during a stopover at an airport where our paths happened to be crossing, so that I could brief her ahead of her appearance at a big international meeting. It is typical of her. The subject was the Millennium Development Goals — a set of objectives agreed upon by the world's governments. They range from eradicating poverty to reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS. As always, she wanted to be prepared—not just to share impressions of poverty but to be able to speak seriously to the issues. Angelina went on to make a film for MTV on a village in Kenya, where a pilot project is under way to fight poverty, hunger and disease.

That blending of the activist and the performer, not on the set but in the African bush, reflects her determination to stick with a subject, immerse herself in it, make it part of her life—and then bring her public with her. It is celebrity advocacy at its most effective, most intelligent and most sincere. For that, she has my enduring respect and gratitude—and Maddy's.

Malloch Brown is Deputy Secretary-General of the U.N.