Angelina Jolie: Working with refugees is not ‘about doing some service to someone’

Angelina Jolie persists. Despite all of the crap that’s been flung at her for decades, she persists, she thrives and she queen-bees. In 2021, Jolie’s brand-ambassadorship with the French beauty house Guerlain took an interesting turn. Guerlain partnered with the UNESCO Women for Bees program, and Guerlain asked Angelina to become “godmother” to the women in the program. It was an excellent collaboration and Jolie cares about it deeply. She was there in France when the first group of women “graduated” from the program, and Guerlain and UNESCO have expanded the program to Angelina’s second home in Cambodia. To highlight Women for Bees’ expansion into Asia, Jolie chatted with Vanity Fair about bees, honey, refugees and her children. Some highlights:

The importance of a healthy bee population. “Thirty percent of our food is from pollinators—that says quite a lot. There are some images where they show you, ‘Here’s your breakfast with the pollinators; here’s what goes away without the pollinators.’ I like simple things like that. I’ve been educated so much, from UNESCO to scientists—but the kids’ plates work for me.”

Her role as “godmother” to Women For Bees: “It’s nice that you point out it is familial-sounding, because it is,” says Jolie of the tight-knit initiative with an eye to small-scale entrepreneurship. She considers it a privilege to “encourage and connect all of these extraordinary women, and help people understand the work that they’re doing—through to the science and the connection to biospheres and the cultural heritage.”

Her extensive work in Cambodia: “Cambodia’s very dear to my heart, and it was where I became a mom… Working with UNESCO, working with World Wildlife Federation, working with Flora & Fauna, we’re all there talking about how much can be protected because it goes so fast. So it was with a little bit of urgency that I wanted another program, even stronger, in there.”

Her newly shifted perception of honey: “It happened to me when I worked in Cambodia on a film and we [spent time] in the rice fields. I did a course on how much it takes to get one grain of rice.” She likens the experience to a Buddhist meditation. “A lot of us who live in cities, we don’t really think about what it takes to make any food that’s on our plate. So I see honey, and I think of all the efforts of the beekeepers, the bees themselves.” There’s gratitude and love, she laughs. “I put it in just about everything.”

Her next film, an adaptation of Alessandro Baricco’s Without Blood: “I suppose I’m drawn to the extremes of the human condition—to just being human. I’m very human. I’m very flawed. I’m very raw. We see the best and the worst of people in these kinds of situations.” If her earlier film was a chance to reframe history—“I appreciated The Killing Fields growing up, but it wasn’t in Khmer, and the hero at the center wasn’t Cambodian”—the new project isn’t about a particular place. “And it’s not clear on who’s right and wrong or good and bad.”

How she talks about war, conflict & blurred morality with her kids: “Some of my children are from countries of conflict. Pax is Vietnamese, and we had to adjust what he was being taught in history books,” she says. Her daughter, Zahara, is from Ethiopia, another fraught place at the moment. “So it’s not a new conversation in our home. But it’s continuing,” Jolie says, speaking about the horrific Ukraine headlines as one talking point among many, citing the more than 80 million people displaced globally. Some of Jolie’s children have joined her at refugee camps around the world. “I never wanted them to feel that this is about doing some service to someone… You should be honored to meet with strong, resilient people who are fighting against oppression and persecution, and get to meet them and be in any way in partnership with them to survive.”

[From Vanity Fair]

It actually makes me sad to think about honey and everything that goes into the “production” and sale of honey, especially given that bee populations are declining. Sigh… we need more bees and more beekeepers. As for her work in Cambodia… it’s really extraordinary to think of how the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation has expanded so much in the past twenty years. First Angelina bought a little house in the jungle and from there, she’s done extensive de-mining work, opened medical clinics, started conservation programs to protect of Cambodia’s biodiversity, done agricultural training and on and on. It’s amazing. And now they’re doing bees!!

Photos courtesy of Avalon Red, Backgrid.

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14 Responses to “Angelina Jolie: Working with refugees is not ‘about doing some service to someone’”

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  1. Katy says:

    I imagine Angelina and Beyonce having beekeeping discussions over hot tea, with their feet up.

  2. Zut Alors says:

    I just ❤️ her. She has a clear purpose for her life and she keeps on that path no matter what the world throws at her. I also loved the description of the breakfast plate. So simple but yet so impactful.

  3. Knop says:

    Love Angelina Jolie and love her legacy that’s improving lives

  4. Isabella says:

    I love this: “I suppose I’m drawn to the extremes of the human condition—to just being human. I’m very human. I’m very flawed. I’m very raw. We see the best and the worst of people in these kinds of situations.”

  5. Amy Bee says:

    Love her.

    • smlstrs says:

      Seconding the AJ appreciation – and adding that Amy Bee is a lovely username in general and perfect for this article in particular!

  6. Lizzie Bathory says:

    It’s so striking how curious she is to learn, to engage with the world & then to take that knowledge & use her resources to help people in tangible ways. She seems like a lovely person.

  7. SarahCS says:

    I love hearing her talk about aspects of her life and work, she’s a fascinating woman and I have so much admiration for how she’s chosen to live and what she puts her energy into.

  8. Grace says:

    I love her. I also work with the refugee population. They are some of the most inspiring, strong, and tenacious people I have known. They inspire me every day to do a better job (ESL teacher). Yep, that is SO trite, but it’s so damn true.

    • trixie says:

      Angie is beautiful, inside and out. The good work she does, cannot be compared to anything anyone is doing. She is absolutely beautiful, but i wish she would put on 10 lbs. She’s so thin! We need her to be healthy, so she can continue to do good for our world. I’m sure Pitt made her think she was too heavy. She wasn’t this thin before, but i can imagine the stress she is under. Men can be hateful in their criticism when they want to break you.

  9. Storminateacup says:

    I wish she would say something about women being brutalised and killed in Iran

  10. Sasha says:

    Okay so making honey that sells and pollinating bees and two completely different things. Declining bee populations don’t affect your honey. Those are different bees, that are imported JUST for that. Declining bee populations means that there are too many monocrops, not enough of variety in wild bee diets, and as a result- certain flora cannot survive and down goes the food chain.

    Joanna Tymkiw recently write an amazing article for the Globe and Mail that points out everything.