Angelina Jolie does not have a project to promote. She’s neither starring in, nor directing, a March film. Bucking the standard reasons for doing press, the Academy Award–winning megastar is on this month’s cover of ELLE to draw attention to an occasion that doesn’t come with a red carpet: International Women’s Day (March 8).
For the better part of the last decade, the 42-year-old has devoted herself to shedding light on women’s rights, or lack thereof, across the globe. Serving as a goodwill ambassador and special envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, she’s completed nearly 60 field missions, including visits to Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. As cofounder of the British government’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative, she’s met with rape survivors in Rwanda and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Days before her ELLE shoot, the Guardian published Jolie’s call to action against gender-based violence, co-authored with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Despite all her advocacy, Jolie confesses she’s always been reticent when it comes to politics. Still, she recognizes that political action can sometimes offer a more direct route to changing things for the better.
To that end, the following story is a thoughtful conversation between her and longtime politician John Kerry. Jolie first met the 74-year-old statesman—a Vietnam veteran, presidential candidate, and, most recently, U.S. secretary of state—five years ago at the London G8 Summit. It’s a frigid December morning when the two reconnect at the Ritz-Carlton in New York. Kerry, who unexpectedly bumped into his daughter Vanessa on the street, brought her along for a brief hello. The four youngest of Jolie’s six children will arrive later. Jolie is in town to accept the Global Citizen of the Year award from the United Nations Correspondents Association and to do some Christmas shopping. They’re both looking forward to 2018, when Jolie will speak to students at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, where the former secretary oversees the Kerry Initiative. Kerry, in turn, has agreed to speak at the London School of Economics, where Jolie is a visiting professor.
Here, a small preview of some of the huge issues they are working tirelessly to remedy. Listen in.
Angelina Jolie: Thank you for speaking with me for International Women’s Day.
John Kerry: My pleasure. How’s your family?
AJ: All right. The kids will be here soon. You have grandkids now?
JK: I am having the best time being a granddad. They’re so smart, it’s scary.
AJ: They really are, just their clarity….
JK: I’ve just come back from a climate summit in Paris. I know this is something you feel strongly about, why we need to be engaged globally.
AJ: That’s one of the things I’d love to talk to you about. There is this question of, can you be a citizen of the world and still be a patriot? It shouldn’t even be a question.
JK: It’s something we need to talk more about. What it means to be an American. We need to do a better job of explaining why all Americans should feel proud of the things that we have done in countries around the world.
AJ: I’m very patriotic, as I know you are. For me, it goes hand in hand with being proud of what America stands for. For instance, I’m the only person in my house who was born in America.
JK: I wasn’t aware of that.
AJ: It’s only because we are a country based on people of different backgrounds and faiths coming together that I can have this family. My daughters have the freedoms they have because of being American. And we are at our best when we are fighting for others to have the same rights. Particularly other women.
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