Hollywood loves a token gesture. Show up at a glitzy red-carpet event in a hybrid car with an AIDS ribbon pinned to your lapel, and you're officially dubbed a celebrity with a conscience.
Image-conscious stars have always been aware of the public-relations value of a good deed, and when you're making $10 million a picture, donating to the right cause is a great tax write-off. It also brings free press.
It's easy to become cynical about some efforts. Five years ago, Michael Jackson ballyhooed his own Heal the Children foundation. But even before his recent brush with the law, that effort silently disappeared.
Still, this is the age of celebrity-driven charity, a time when Bono speaks with world leaders about Third World debt and gets nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Angelina Jolie, a goodwill ambassador for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, has turned into one of the leading spokeswomen for children and refugees in war-torn regions.
Though even outgoing Secretary-General Kofi Annan publicly praises Jolie -- who has visited at least 15 war-torn and impoverished countries, drawing attention to humanitarian crises in places such as Darfur, Sudan; Chad; and Pakistan -- charity and celebrity can be an awkward mix.
"It's clearly a two-way street," one U.N. worker said. "But we vet our people pretty well, and Angelina really does her work."
Another person familiar with her efforts says it's rare, even for a goodwill ambassador, to spend a month in a refugee camp, as Jolie has. Her extensive travels are logged in Jolie's "Notes from My Travels," a book that Jane Goodall hails.
"Angelina is living proof of the power we all have -- every one of us -- to make a difference," Goodall said. "I was deeply moved by her descriptions of individual refugees struggling to live with dignity and hope, and found her personal commitment to be an inspiration."
And beyond Jolie's work for the United Nations, she's donated at least $3 million to efforts around the world. A month before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, she was in Pakistan visiting Afghan refugees, more than a million of whom had fled under the Taliban's rule, and personally donated $1 million.
But Jolie -- who was once more famous for her tattoos than her humanitarianism -- is now also making saving lives a fashion statement.
In the forthcoming issue of "Vanity Fair," she steps forward as the face of St. John, a clothing line that has long been a favorite of politicos such as Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Rodham Clinton.
The "Laura Croft: Tomb Raider" star is giving St. John a new spin. Part of the deal, reportedly valued at $12 million, is that Jolie will head up its charitable foundation, and the designer is eager to market her as a model of kindness.
"I am a working mother who has set goals to accomplish a lot in this world," Jolie said in a statement, announcing the deal last September. "I want my wardrobe to be beautiful, sexy and comfortable -- all at the same time. St. John is all of those things."
Bono also has no qualms about marketing for peace. In January, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland -- an annual summit of political leaders, charities, and captains of industry -- the rocker announced a trendy way to fight AIDS.