Can Angelina Jolie Save Lives While Making a Fashion Statement?


Feb. 2, 2006 — -- 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.

The U2 star's Red label will be selling sunglasses, T-shirts and other items -- with labels such as Armani and Gap lending a hand -- with proceeds going to research and relief. He also hopes to offer a "Red" American Express; credit-card reward points will go to charity.

Measuring the success of any charitable effort is always difficult. But Jolie may have made her biggest difference by adopting orphaned children -- son Maddox from Cambodia in 2002, and daughter Zahara from Ethiopia in 2005.

Since Zahara's adoption in June, international adoption agencies say the number of inquiries about Ethiopian babies have doubled, though the highest adoption numbers remain in China, Russia and Guatemala.

"Anyone similar to Ms. Jolie in celebrity status does bring increased media attention, and does increase interest for other parents to come forward and help these children," Sarah Mraz, director of child programs at Wide Horizons for Children, a private, nonprofit adoption and child welfare agency, told Reuters.

Here are some of Jolie's efforts, both as a U.N. goodwill ambassador and a private citizen:

April 16, 2001 -- Jolie helps raise money for a school in Angkor Wat, the Cambodian city where portions of "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" were shot. The $85 million action film was a major boost for the city, which is famous for its temples. The last Hollywood film shot there was Peter O'Toole's "Lord Jim" in 1965.

Aug. 28, 2001 -- Shortly before the Sept. 11 attacks, Jolie visits Pakistan and speaks of the horrors Afghan refugees suffer under the Taliban. A few weeks later, she donates $1 million to U.N. relief efforts there, and receives a public commendation from Afghanistan High Commissioner Rudd Lubbers.

November 2001 -- Jolie and ex-husband Billy Bob Thornton visit U.N. projects on the Thai-Cambodian border, where thousands of refugees have been living since the end of the war in Cambodia in 1998.

Sept. 16, 2002 -- Jolie donates $100,000 to U.N. aid agencies in Africa to provide relief for refugees who have been living in a camp since Morocco annexed the Western Sahara in 1975.

Nov. 26, 2002 -- Jolie purchases land in Cambodia with the intention of building a home there. She said she had to have her land "de-mined."

Jan. 3, 2003 -- Jolie visits Kosovo on behalf of the United Nations and speaks of the ravages of war. She says that she's shocked by the living conditions, though the fighting has ceased.

April 14, 2003 -- Pledging to pay $5 million over the next 15 years, Jolie helps launch a wildlife sanctuary in an area of Cambodia once controlled by the Khmer Rouge. She tells reporters she's already paid $350,000 to set up the 50,000-acre protected area.

April 17, 2003 -- Jolie visits Sri Lanka and listens to a group of 500 orphaned girls speak of devastation to their war-torn country. She donates $10,000 to a hospital for a pediatric ward and calls on the international community to put pressure on warring factions to forge a peace treaty in that country.

April 30, 2003 -- Fearing that the war in Iraq will distract attention from humanitarian needs elsewhere, Jolie donates $30,000 to African refugees to feed children under 5 years old and pay for agricultural supplies.

Oct. 21, 2003 -- Shortly before the release of "Beyond Borders," the $16-million-a-movie star vows to give one-third of her earnings to charity.

July 7, 2004 -- Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen offers Jolie citizenship in thanks for her tireless charity work. On Jolie's trip there, she pledges $1.5 million to an environmental project.

March 9, 2005 -- At Washington, D.C.'s National Press Club, Jolie outlines plans for the National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children, an organization she helped launch, which is to provide legal assistance for thousands of immigrant children in the United States. She tells reporters she plans to adopt another child so that Maddox can have an "African brother."

April 2005 -- Fueling rumors that they are now a couple, Jolie and Brad Pitt are photographed holding hands on the beach of Mombassa, Kenya, with Jolie's son, Maddox. They visit an AIDS treatment center in Ethiopia.

Sept. 5, 2005 -- "Shocked" at the response to Hurricane Katrina, Jolie writes to the White House and members of Congress, saying in a statement that New Orleans is "very close to my heart."

Sept. 16, 2005 -- In a deal reportedly valued at $12 million, Jolie becomes the new face of the St. John fashion line. In addition to working for the California clothing manufacturer, she'll head the company's charitable foundation.

Oct. 27, 2005 -- Declaring that charitable work is "the greatest thing in my life," Jolie accepts the U.N. Global Humanitarian Action Award.

Nov. 28, 2005 -- After Pitt and Jolie spend Thanksgiving in Pakistan visiting earthquake victims, Pitt pledges to buy 40 orthopedic beds for an Islamabad hospital at a cost of $100,000.

Jan. 30, 2006 -- Jolie addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and warns those present not to be starstruck by her presence, and to focus on humanitarian efforts in war-torn areas. "I just think if I can ask anything, it's for everybody in this room, including myself, to stay focused on the issues."

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