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The Trouble With Strong, Sexy, Altruistic Angelina Jolie

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IT would, as Vogue magazine put it, go down as the day love died.

Or, as the rest of the world thought of it, a Tuesday in September 2016, on which four aid workers died in an airstrike on a medical centre in Aleppo, 29 people drowned off the coast of Egypt, and Donald Trump told 18 more lies.

But, never mind all that.

The news that Angelina Jolie filed for divorce from Brad Pitt this week caused an instantaneous worldwide run on calming lavender bath oils, Ed Sheeran albums, and chocolate Häagen-Dazs.

Adele dedicated a concert to the phenomenon formerly known as Brangelina, lamenting the dissolution of their marriage as “the end of an era”.

The statements issued by lawyers for the couple were short on detail, and long on barely restrained emotion.

Brad was said to be “very saddened”, but stoically thinking of the children. Angelina’s team cited “irreconcilable differences”, and muttered darkly about the “health of the family”.

Her petition sought sole physical custody of the couple’s six children. Despite the paucity of details, a couple of different versions of the narrative had emerged within hours to fill the vacuum.

In version one, Brad has been drinking beer, smoking marijuana, posing for selfies with Selena Gomez, and – look away now if you’re of a sensitive disposition – disagreeing with Angelina’s parenting style.

In version two, Brad had been having a fling with fellow actor Marion Cotillard – who is, crushingly, a dead ringer for a younger Angelina with a French accent.

Cotillard took to Instagram – taking to Instagram being the contemporary version of issuing a press release – to deny the rumours.

“I am not used to commenting on things like this nor taking them seriously but as this situation is spiraling and affecting people I love, I have to speak up.

“Firstly, many years ago, I met the man of my life, father of our son and of the baby we are expecting. He is my love, my best friend, the only one that I need. Secondly, to those who have indicated that I am devastated, I am very well thank you,” she said.

Initially, there was surprisingly little exploration of the suggestion that Brad had “anger issues”, beyond a handful of reports describing him as the disciplinarian in the family.

Towards the end of the week, a darker version of events emerged, with an anonymous report on TMZ claiming Pitt was under investigation by LAPD and LA County Dept of Children and Family Services for allegedly getting drunk on a flight, “ranting” and becoming abusive – allegations Pitt promptly denied.

Even still, the focus remained on Angelina’s shortcomings. She was portrayed as a control freak out to spoil his fun and stop him enjoying a few beers.

He would give her one more chance, despite being “crazy” with a “coven” of female friends, The Sun revealed.

Her divorce petition would put the couple’s children in jeopardy by “unleashing hell”, in the form of the army of paparazzi who promptly set up camp outside the couple’s LA home, TMZ reported.

Conveniently overlooking the fact that it was she who had filed for divorce, the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail were quick to blame “bohemian” Jolie’s “chaotic parenting” for driving Brad away.

The Mirror quoted one of their six (Six! Count them!) nannies describing a situation that may ring faint bells with other parents of under-10s the world over: “They have no control over the kids. In the middle of the night they’re running down the hallway waking their parents up and trying to get into their beds.”

There is something deeply irrational and depressingly misogynistic in this media-manufactured dislike of Jolie.

She is a talented actor, an accomplished director, and a visiting professor at the London School of Economics.
She is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador and a vocal advocate for refugees, for human rights, and for education for girls.

She displays an altruism at least as genuine as that of anyone else in Hollywood. She is wealthy in her own right, and unapologetically herself.

Her beauty is hyperreal, almost indecent: even when she is doing nothing more alluring than pushing a trolley out of Whole Foods, her expression seems to be one of such naked sexuality that you don’t know whether to look away, or rip your clothes off.

In 2013, confronted with a daunting health diagnosis – she found that she carried a gene, BRCA1, which sharply increased her risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer – she showed admirable strength, candour and concern for others, and wrote about her preventative double mastectomy in the New York Times.

This week she has, once again, been defiantly taking control of her own life. Having decided that she no longer wishes to be married, she hired one of Hollywood’s most powerful lawyers and – in a clear signal about who will be directing this particular narrative – reportedly blindsided Pitt’s camp by issuing the first statement about the dissolution of their marriage.

In a different world – a more equal world – she’d probably have “Role Model For All Women Everywhere” as her job title on LinkedIn.

Instead, she regularly appears on the lists of the most hated women in Hollywood, alongside those other fulcrums of unaccountable public fury, Gwyneth Paltrow and Anne Hathaway.

When, a few years ago, a series of bitchy, leaked emails by Sony producer Scott Rubin accused her of being a “minimally talented spoiled brat” and “a camp event and a celebrity and that’s all”, the media lapped it up with the kind of fervour normally reserved for the latest news of a staff firing in the Trump camp.

Last week, the news that she was ending her marriage amid allegations of anger issues and substance abuse was met not with sympathy, but disdain and even outright glee.

The comedian Chelsea Handler – who is best known, in this part of the world at least, for being a “friend of Jennifer Aniston” – made headlines for describing Angelina, in less than witty fashion, as a “f**king lunatic”, following up with a joke about why Brad might “need to self-medicate”.

Jolie stands accused of . . . what? Resolutely carving out her own path? Refusing to conform? Being a little too pleased with her lot?

A tad comfortable in her own skin – even, heaven forbid, a tiny bit vain? The latter despite the fact that, on the rare occasions she is photographed away from the red carpet, she is usually seen without any make-up, wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt, and touring an orphanage somewhere for good measure.

Much of the dislike directed at her can, of course, be accounted for by the Jen factor.

The narrative, in case you’ve been fortunate enough to spend all of those years marooned on a remote island with no access to Grazia magazine, is that Jolie ‘stole’ Pitt from Friends star Jennifer Aniston – as though the hapless, poor fool had no say in the matter himself (never mind that, 11 years later, Aniston is happily remarried, and it is the glossy magazine industry which seems to be stuck in the past).

It is a story as old mythology itself, and the part might have been written for Jolie: the beautiful, strong woman cast as the evil temptress. Not that she ever seemed bothered by the label.

While other celebrities try desperately to court our admiration, approval, or envy, Jolie seems to understand that a desire to be liked inevitably compromises a powerful woman.

Just ask Hillary Clinton. So, instead, she courts our fascination.

In the past, much of that fascination was focused on her sexuality. Proudly bisexual long before it was fashionable, she has spoken about her love for knifeplay, and once indulged in a lingering kiss on the red carpet with her own brother.

Within a few months of Pitt’s separation in 2005 from America’s sweetheart, Aniston, he and Jolie posed together as a 1960s-style, unhappily married couple in a highly-suggestive, 60-page spread in a fashion magazine.

In recent years, she has managed to pivot the narrative, so that now it’s all about her human-rights work, the will-she, won’t-she whispers about her ambition to run for public office, and most of all, her unconventional brand of domesticity.

As a unit, Brangelina represented the promise that it was possible for a couple to have six beautiful children, fulfilling careers, a full gamut of humanitarian interests, and really, really good sex.

She doesn’t even have a publicist anymore – after all, it’s unlikely anyone else could manage her image quite so effectively.

And it’s no surprise that, rather than a carefully choreographed statement of “mutual uncoupling”, she opted for that most modern of divorce revelations: a full legal petition leaked to TMZ, complete with a bid for physical custody.

The result was explosive: as the world echoed to a symphony of breaking news alerts, the news of the Brangelina break-up plummeted Trump, for a few days at least, down the Most Read rankings.

And who knows, maybe that will turn out to have been the point all along.

There are less likely parts you can imagine for Jolie than self-sacrificing heroine, forsaking her personal happiness to save the world from Trump.

In reality, Jolie’s most illuminating roles have always been off-camera.

Her true fascination lies not in what she reveals about herself – but in what she reveals about us, and our lingering discomfort with powerful women. – The Irish Times

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