This month, it was announced that Angelina Jolie Pitt was appointed visiting professor-in-practice by the London School of Economics. She’s slated to teach in a Master’s program which deals with sexual violence and women’s rights in conflict.
She’ll appear alongside the likes of Jane Connors, the Director of International Advocacy at Amnesty International, as well as Madeleine Rees, the Secretary-General of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
The course is administered by the university’s Centre for Women, Peace and Security – which Angelina helped unveil last year together with former foreign secretary William Hague.
In an official statement released last Monday, Angelina said that the postgraduate program is an “encouraging” first step towards a much-needed dialogue “on how to advance women’s rights and end impunity for crimes that disproportionately affect women, such as sexual violence in conflict.”
But not everyone is convinced her nomination is something to be celebrated. Some have railed against what they see as an uber-privileged celebrity bending the rigid constraints of the academic world with a flick of her perfectly manicured hand. Because apparently one half of the Brangelina duo making an appearance at a university as a guest speaker signifies the death of academia.
Let’s be clear: Angelina’s Hollywood credentials, while certainly extensive, are the least impressive thing about her.
In her time as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Human Rights Commission, she’s carried out aid missions in areas most of us would never dream of setting foot in. She’s written books, journals and articles on the subject of women in conflict, delivered speeches to scores of diplomats, and sat in on assemblies with the United Nations Security Council after she was appointed Special Envoy in 2012 for the High Commissioner for Refugees.
For her humanitarian efforts in the areas of women’s rights, education, child marriage, conservation and community development, she’s received the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, the Citizen of the World Award, the Freedom Award and an honorary damehood from Queen Elizabeth herself. For all of that, she continues to use her considerable star power to shine a light on the refugee crisis, a subject so often snubbed by mainstream media.
But apparently none of that’s sufficient for some critics.
All these whispers remind me of last year’s refugee talks where Angelina lambasted the UN over their lethargic response to the Syrian refugee crisis. When asked about her presence in the assembly, the Syrian ambassador’s response was merely, “She’s beautiful.”
He wasn’t wrong. But limiting our appraisal of Angelina to her looks or her onscreen exploits isn’t just short-sighted, it’s ignoring the causes she’s championed, the real people she’s affected.
While we should be critical of the roles race and class have to play as part of a broader discussion about privilege, we shouldn’t let that hinder our appreciation of genuine achievements in the international community.
Likewise, while Angelina’s contributions to the entertainment industry are noteworthy in their own right, she’s made it clear what she’d like to be remembered for. And it has nothing to do with the Tomb Raider action figures made in her likeness.
So here’s to Angelina – humanitarian, actress, filmmaker and now professor. Long may she reign.
This piece was republished with permission from the author.