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Angelina Jolie: Directing with Social Consciousness

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Angelina Jolie Director

Actress Angelina Jolie has done it all, including taking steps to help bring aid to those who need it. She began her career in 1982 when she was seven years old, as she had a bit part in her father’s film Lookin’ to Get Out. Since then, she has become one of Hollywood’s most elite actors, with tabloids and audiences watching for what she will do next, professionally and personally. It was in 2001 that she became a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Refugee Agency, and in 2012, she was designated as a Special Envoy of the UNHCR due to the extensive amount of service she did in war-torn and developing nations.

Not only has Jolie worked with the UNHCR, but she also has set up several foundations of her own and expanded to humanitarian causes outside of ongo ing refugee crises. In 2003, she founded the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, which aims to help preserve Cambodia’s natural environment and wildlife and decrease poverty rates in the rural portions of the country. She has championed many causes, so it comes as no surprise that as a director, she spotlights and uses film as a form of awareness and advocacy.

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Jolie already had an established career as an actress before she took a chance and stepped behind the camera for A Place in Time. This was a 2007 documentary that took some of Jolie’s celebrity friends, such as Anne Hathaway, to refugee camps, orphanages, and areas of ongoing conflict around the world to see the impacts of war and violence on everyday citizens. A Place in Time laid the scene for her first commercial release, In the Land of Blood and Honey, which takes place during the Bosnian War in the 1990s. Out of the four feature films Jolie has directed and released so far, three of them deal with war.

Their protagonists, however, are people not often associated with acts of war — as a result, they do not glorify violence and the act of conquering an enemy, thus achieving a twisted sense of satisfaction. In the Land of Blood and Honey’s protagonist is a Bosniak artist dating a Serb cop, and in the opening scenes of the movie, the club they are in is attacked, marking the war’s start. Because the two lovers are of different ethnic groups in a highly volatile time, their relationship not only seems doomed, but distinguishes them as anomalies in the grand overarching narrative of why this war was occurring.

The 2015 film Unbroken‘s protagonist is a former Olympian, now an army member, held as a prisoner amid World War II. Conditions as an American held captive in the Japanese camps are not ideal, but few movies delve into this subject. Her follow-up film, First They Killed My Father, continues this theme, shedding light on one family’s story during the Khmer Rouge’s regime in Cambodia. The movie is told from a young child’s perspective, and that subverts the expectations the viewer comes in. Witnessing the horror and tragedy that came with this era through the lens of a child adds an initial layer of innocence that is shattered repeatedly as the story unfolds.

Related: Angelina Jolie’s Without Blood to Star Salma Hayek and Demian Bichir

Even with her first fictional film, In the Land of Blood and Honey, Jolie has done something unique with her style: she refuses to adapt it for an English-speaking audience. This pitfall is something causing a movie to lose its initial charm, such as the Spike Lee adaptation of Oldboy. Bong Joon-ho, the director of Parasite, once famously said during his Oscar speech that audiences need to overcome the minuscule barrier of subtitles to unlock an entirely new world of stories and cinema. The language a film is in can be a bold choice: it is what distinguishes something 100% as belonging to a culture or attempting to appeal to a wider audience.

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