10.19.08

She's Actually Smart

Angelina wows a crowd of human rights bigwigs with a kick-ass speech on war crimes, child soldiers and global justice.

“Angelina’s full of surprises,” said legendary profiler Lillian Ross, who was shadowing the actress for a New Yorker piece last Friday afternoon at the Council on Foreign Relations. “She doesn’t miss a thing. She’s one of a kind, not only with the six kids—she’s a real working mom—but her intelligence, understanding, humor. And, of course, there’s the beauty. Clint Eastwood says when you look at her up close you realize she has the most beautiful face on earth.”

Jennifer Aniston really didn’t stand a chance. Neither did most who heard Jolie deliver the introductory remarks for a panel on Darfur at an elegant international law and justice symposium sponsored by the Jolie-Pitt Foundation. She spoke alongside Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. It was the final presentation of a decidedly high-wonk day.

As Jolie left, Ted Sorenson, whom as JFK’s speechwriter spent a lot of time with the most famous brunette of that era, summed up his impression of the actress. ‘Frankly, I came a skeptic,’ he said, ‘but am leaving impressed.’

It began at noon with the activist actress hobnobbing with General Wesley Clark, Nick Rostow, legal advisor to the political elite, and Greg Craig, the defense attorney who represented would-be Reagan assassin John Hinkley. By the time Council President Richard Haass welcomed everyone, the actress, dressed for diplomatic success in black boots, skirt and blazer, was first row, front and center.

When a brand-name Hollywood personality attends such an event, it’s tempting (and often accurate) to dismiss their presence as good PR, a little star power to make the affair palatable to the popular media. Often at these sorts of things, the starlet delivers a few minutes of talking points while affecting a glamorous, yet earnest, pose. Folks were wondering if Jolie’s speech would show a well-intentioned woman well out of her league.

Over the course of five hours, as the attendees digested such light fare as “International Obligations Toward Victims of Mass Atrocities,” Jolie scribbled notes on a legal pad. When her turn came to speak, the room hushed and craned its collective neck. Human rights advocates, NGO staffers and Council members—people who live and breathe this subject matter—shifted in their seats to watch the celebrity approach the podium.

Once there, Jolie began by citing the “remarkable education” of her seven years as Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations, and her visits to 25 refugee camps. She then proceeded to eloquently make her case that too often, “peace is placed before justice, often times instead of it. I believe there’s no enduring peace without justice.”

Justice, as she put it, should not be “a luxury for only rich and wealthy nations. In far too many places I’ve been, I’ve seen refugees returned to live among the same people who attacked them,” the same people who remain in power by “threatening more violence if we attempt to bring them to justice. We let those who destroyed their country decide the future for it.

She continued: “When crimes against humanity are punished consistently, the killers’ calculus will change. If they walk away, it sends a message that they need not worry. We need to arrest those indicted. Trials can change behavior.”

And finally, “After seven years in the field I have a lot to learn, but I do know that no mother who had her children killed in front of her, no young girl sold into slavery, no boy kidnapped and forced to be a child soldier, no young girl, like the three year old I saw with her limbs cut off, should be expected to forget. No one should have to choose between peace and justice.”

When the panel concluded, the actress, who was giving no interviews, was instantly surrounded by people who, in the name of world peace, had summoned up the courage to approach her for an autograph—not for themselves, you see, for their grandchildren. “Of course, I understand,” she replied, ever graciously, as the long fingers of her left hand scrawled her name across the programs. “I have kids, too.” Indeed. The most famous on the planet.

As Jolie left, Ted Sorenson, who as JFK’s speechwriter spent a lot of time with the most famous brunette of that era, summed up his impression of the actress.

“Frankly, I came a skeptic,” he said, “but am leaving impressed.”