Biography – Chapter 4: The 2010s
In 2010, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt established the Shiloh Jolie-Pitt Foundation to support conservation work by the Naankuse Wildlife Sanctuary. Created in honour of their Namibian born child Shiloh, Angelina and Brad are committed to conserving the land, cultures and wildlife of Namibia. The Shiloh Jolie-Pitt Foundation’s focus is to develop long-term projects on conservation for carnivores and Wild Dogs and supporting vulnerable people in Namibia.
After taking time off from movies, Angelina returned to the big screen in 2010. Her first film in two years was the thriller Salt. The character of agent Salt was originally written as male with Tom Cruise attached to star. However, the film was gender swapped after a Columbia Pictures executive suggested Angelina for the role – and thus Angelina became Evelyn Salt.
Also in 2010, Angelina and Johnny Depp paired together for The Tourist. Angelina played Elise Clifton-Ward, a British woman followed by French Police. “It’s getting harder to make decisions to just want to do something to work… I’m trying to find things that are extremely challenging or mean something to me deeply”, Angelina said. “Sometimes something like The Tourist comes up and it’s just fun, but I think it’s not as easy to find projects now, to find something that means so much that you have to do it.” Despite the film being a critical failure, Angelina received a Golden Globe Award nomination for her performance.
Next, Angelina Jolie sank her teeth into a real passion project: she made her feature directorial debut with In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011), which she also wrote and produced. “You know, this was an unusual one because I didn’t set out to become a director”, she said. “It wasn’t ‘I want to direct something, so I’m going to write something.’ I wrote it because I wanted to think about these issues. I’d written journals and op-eds, and this was just an experiment for me. I wanted to give myself this homework to have the excuse to do it. And then, the cast came together and things started to happen, and somehow it became real. I couldn’t let it go, and I ended up directing.”
Starring Goran Kostić and Zana Marjanović, In the Land of Blood and Honey depicts a love story set against the background of the Bosnian War. Angelina got the idea to write a script of a wartime love story after traveling to Bosnia and Herzegovina as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador. In the Land of Blood and Honey was shot in Budapest and Esztergom during October and November 2010. The cast were entirely local actors, many of whom lived through the war. “This was, you know, the worst genocide since World War II in Europe… What were we all doing? And did we do enough? And why do we not speak about this enough?” Angelina said.
Speaking of her directorial inspirations, Angelina marked: “I’ve learned a lot from Clint [Eastwood], who’s an extremely economical director. I learned a lot from Michael Winterbottom, who really gave a lot of trust to the actors and allowed them to live in the space. And working with [Robert] De Niro taught me a lot about being an actor’s director.”
In the Land of Blood and Honey was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Also, Angelina Jolie was named an honorary citizen of Sarajevo for raising awareness of the war.
After years of dedicated service to UNHCR and the cause of refugees, Angelina Jolie was appointed Special Envoy in April 2012. In her expanded role, Angelina focuses on major crises that result in mass population displacements, undertaking advocacy and representing UNHCR and the High Commissioner at the diplomatic level. She also engages with decision-makers on global displacement issues. Through this work, she has helped contribute to the vital process of finding solutions for people forced to flee their homes. “The answer to addressing the global refugee crisis surely lies in finding common purpose and drawing strength from each other. In staying true to who we are, and showing that we have the fight in us to confront our generation’s test, and emerge stronger for it”, Angelina spoke on World Refugee Day in 2016.
In May 2012, Angelina Jolie launched the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PSVI) with Foreign Secretary William Hague, who was inspired to campaign on the issue by In the Land of Blood and Honey. The PSVI aims to address the culture of impunity, ensure more perpetrators are brought to justice and ensure better support for survivors. “We’re campaigning to raise awareness, rally global action, promote international coherence and increase the political will and capacity of states to do more.” In June 2014, Angelina Jolie co-chaired the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London.
In February 2013, Angelina underwent a preventive double mastectomy after learning she had an 87% risk of developing breast cancer due to a defective BRCA1 gene. She had lost her mother, grandmother and aunt to cancer. Angelina wrote about her experience to New York Times: “For any woman reading this, I hope it helps you to know you have options. I want to encourage every woman, especially if you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, to seek out the information and medical experts who can help you through this aspect of your life, and to make your own informed choices.”
In March 2015, after annual test results indicated possible signs of early ovarian cancer, Angelina underwent surgery to remove her tubes and ovaries, as she had a 50% risk of developing ovarian cancer due to the same genetic anomaly. “I feel feminine, and grounded in the choices I am making for myself and my family. I know my children will never have to say, ‘Mom died of ovarian cancer’”, she wrote. “Regardless of the hormone replacements I’m taking, I am now in menopause. I will not be able to have any more children, and I expect some physical changes. But I feel at ease with whatever will come, not because I am strong but because this is a part of life. It is nothing to be feared.”
After over a three year absence from acting, Angelina Jolie starred in Maleficent (2014), a live-action re-imagining of the Disney animation Sleeping Beauty. “It’s such a great project that I imagine I would have always considered it”, Angelina said. “After having directed and thinking that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to act, it wasn’t returning to act in anything normal. It was a crazy idea, and I was so challenged by it. My kids are now all watching all of these movies and wanting to play with mommy. It was perfect timing to have them all on set, playing and being a part of the adventure with me. For me, as an actress, I wanted to not do something where I’m taking myself so seriously, and trying to do something for myself an my art. I wanted to remember what it is to play and entertain, and try something bold.”
Angelina and Brad’s daughter, Vivienne, appears in the film as young Princess Aurora. “This came about because there were kids that would come to set and they would see me, and I would go up and say hi to them, and they would cry. I actually had one child completely freeze, and then cry. It was like terror. And so, I felt so bad. And we realized that there was no way that we were going to find a 4- or 5-year-old that I could be as strong with, that would not see me as a monster. Suddenly, there was Vivi, running around looking like little Aurora and everybody thought, ‘Oh, the answer is right there.’ But then, I had to go home and talk to dad. It’s our kid, so it’s so sweet. The idea of it was so cute to us, as mommy and daddy.”
Angelina received praised for her performance as Maleficent. “Angelina Jolie doesn’t chew the estimable scenery in Maleficent — she infuses it, wielding a magnetic and effortless power as the magnificently malevolent fairy who places a curse on a newborn princess”, a Hollywood Reporter critic wrote. The film also became Angelina’s highest crossing-film ever. It was announced in 2016 that Jolie will return as Maleficent for a sequel to the box-office smash.
Said Angelina: “I’m happy that I am able to be more selective and have fun with roles like this – but I would like to focus more on writing and directing and above all, I would like to focus more on my work with the UN and the PSVI.”
And that’s exactly what she’s been doing.
Ms. Jolie’s second directorial fiction film was Unbroken (2014). The film is about Louis Zamperini, an Olympian and athlete, who survived in a raft for 47 days after his bomber crash landed in the ocean during World War II, who was then sent to a series of prisoner of war camps. The film was written by the Coen brothers, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson and based on the 2010 book by Laura Hillenbrand.
Jolie pitched a film adaptation of the book only to discover that its subject lived in her Los Angeles neighborhood. “I can show you my roof from the window”, Jolie said. “I imagine that for the last 10-something years, he’s been sitting there having a coffee in the morning and wondering, ‘Who’s going to make this movie?’ And I’ve been sitting in my room laying there thinking, ‘What am I supposed to be doing with my life? I want to do something important. Where is it?’ And it was right outside my window.”
“I prefer directing to acting”, Angelina spoke. “There is huge freedom that comes from being behind the camera. It brings a lot of responsibilities as well, but is intensely rewarding. Particularly the chance to help draw out the best in young actors, like Jack O’Connell in Unbroken, who is a remarkable talent.”
Angelina Jolie was attached to play Cleopatra in a high profile biopic. Angelina said in 2014: “She’s complicated, it’s complicated to get this one right. I think we’re getting there. It’s getting close. I imagine the preparation for it is going to be big. It’s one of those that you think maybe that’s the one you put everything into and that’s where you end it, that’s where you finish – in a great way. What could you do beyond that one?” However, the film is currently in a limbo.
After spending 10 years together, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt married on August 23, 2014, at their estate Château Miraval in Correns, France. She then took on the last name “Jolie Pitt”.
Angelina’s next directorial effort was By the Sea (2015), in which she starred opposite Brad Pitt. Based on her screenplay, the film was a deeply personal project for Angelina, who drew inspiration from her mother’s life. “This film, at it’s core, is about grief and that grief comes from the loss of my mother.” The movie drew inspiration from the modernist European cinema of the 1960s and 1970s. “My mom loved films of that period,” explained Jolie. “So in a way I wanted to make a film that spoke to her and films that she loved.”
The world was shocked when Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt in September 2016, citing irreconcilable differences. In her divorce filing, Angelina requested physical custody of their children. “It was very difficult,” she said in 2017. “Many people find themselves in this situation. My whole family have all been through a difficult time. My focus is my children, our children. We are and forever will be a family and so that is how I am coping. I am coping with finding a way through to make sure that this somehow makes us stronger and closer.” In 2017, Angelina bought a massive estate in Los Feliz, California that was owned by legendary director Cecil B. DeMille.
Angelina Jolie returned to directing with First They Killed My Father (2017). The film was written by Jolie and Loung Ung, based on Ung’s memoir of same name. It will be released on Netflix in late 2017. First They Killed My Father is a true-life account of the Khmer Rouge genocide through the eyes of a child. Angelina has said she hoped the film would help Cambodians to speak more openly about the trauma of the period.
Angelina is also the face of French beauty brand Mon Guerlain. She has revealed that she’s donating her salary from the endorsement to the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, which was named after her eldest son. “The Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation’s work is inspired by our children and their connections to particular countries”, said Jolie. “We visit the projects together, and it is growing with them. We started 13 years ago in Cambodia, and have since moved to Ethiopia and Namibia, too. It is dedicated to education, health and the environment. We are gradually expanding, but our focus is still very much on enabling local people to develop their own communities and future, as well as rights for women and children.”
Angelina Jolie is a visiting lecturer at the London School of Economics. “I am very encouraged by the creation of this master’s program,” Angelina said. “I hope other academic institutions will follow this example, as it is vital that we broaden the discussion on how to advance women’s rights and end impunity for crimes that disproportionately affect women, such as sexual violence in conflict.”
Angelina gave her first lecture at the Center for Women, Peace, and Security in March 2017. She spoke about how “displacement and statelessness” make female populations susceptible to sexual violence and other crimes. In September 2017, Ms. Jolie will begin teaching a master’s course at the university.
Professor Christine Chinkin, director of the Center for Women, Peace and Security, said: “I am delighted that L.S.E. postgraduate students have had the unique opportunity to learn directly from the valuable insights, perspectives and experiences that Angelina Jolie, U.N. special envoy and visiting professor in practice, brought to the class.”
Angelina Jolie is currently mulling a number of high-profile directorial gigs, including a film adaptation of Alessandro Barrico’s 2004 war novel “Without Blood.” Furthermore, she’s producing the upcoming Disney flick The One and Only Ivan. Far from retiring as an actress, Angelina Jolie is in talks to star in The Spy Who Loved and a Catherine the Great project.
The future promises great things for this incredible humanitarian and talent, both on and behind the screen.