I know she’s an unexpected choice, but Angelina Jolie is under-celebrated as a communicator and an advocate. As I’ve been sharing my choice for Communicator of the Year with others, I’ve received bizarre responses like: “She’s an actress, so you should honor her speech writer instead.” Wow. In a world with very few powerful women, those catty responses are shameful — especially considering how much positive change Jolie’s platform has yielded. Sadly, even a Google search reveals how her advocacy for the oppressed is masked by sensational headlines.
Spoken communication is my area of expertise, so I primarily focused on how Jolie used speeches to persuade this year. She delivered two astounding, yet little-known formal addresses. Trigger Warning: the following content contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence.
Jolie delivered a graphic speech to the UN Security Council asking them to adopt a resolution making crimes of sexual violence prosecutable. As a Special Envoy to the UN, she travels around the world to advocate for refugees. She even made a trip to the Congo to help prepare for this speech only weeks after her double mastectomy. She could use descriptive language to convey the horrors because she’d seen the victims and held them in her own arms. Her speech follows a persuasive story pattern perfectly.
Here is an excerpt from her speech:
“Hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of women, children, and men have been raped in conflicts in our lifetimes. The numbers are so vast and the subject so painful that we have to stop to remember that behind each number is someone with a name, a personality, a story, and dreams no different from ours and those of our children.
Let us be clear what we are speaking of:
- Young girls raped and impregnated before their bodies are able to carry a child, causing fistula.
- Boys held at gunpoint and forced to sexually assault their mothers and sisters.
- Women raped with bottles, wood branches, and knives to cause as much damage as possible.
- Toddlers and even babies dragged from their homes and violated.
I will never forget the survivors that I have met or what they told me:
The mother in Goma whose five-year-old daughter had been raped right outside a police station — in plain view.
Rape is a tool of war. It is an act of aggression and a crime against humanity. Addressing warzone sexual violence is therefore your responsibility, as well as the duty of governments in countries afflicted by it. But the starting point must be you, the UN Security Council, shouldering your responsibilities and showing leadership.
That five-year-old child in the Congo must count, because you represent her.
And in her eyes, if her attacker gets away with his crimes, it is because you have allowed it.
You set the bar.”
After she spoke, they unanimously voted in favor of the resolution. Who wouldn’t? The full transcript is here. In early 2012, after serving for over a decade as a Goodwill Ambassador, Jolie was promoted to Special Envoy to the High Commissioner where she can facilitate lasting solutions for refugees.
The second speech I’d like to highlight was Jolie’s Humanitarian of the Year acceptance speech at the Governors Awards hosted by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She came across as a relatable and human public servant, making connections at three very emotional levels:
- As a mom: Jolie humanized herself as a mom when she addressed her son Maddox “”Mad, I’m not going to cry, I promise. I’m not going to embarrass you. You and your brothers and sisters are my happiness. There is no greater honor than being your mother.” One of the most beautiful women in the world embarrasses her kids, too. That was comforting to me.
- As a fortunate person: She had the audience reflect on their fortune (Most news outlets skipped this part). In doing so, she humbly pulled me into the context of the suffering in a way that made me feel grateful. “I have never understood why some people are lucky enough to be born with the chance that I had, to have this path in life, and why, across the world, there is a woman just like me, with the same abilities and the same desires, same work ethic and love for her family, who would most likely make better films and better speeches. Only she sits in a refugee camp, and she has no voice. She worries about what her children will eat, how to keep them safe, and if they’ll ever be allowed to return home. I don’t know why this is my life and that’s hers.”
- As a daughter: She made the loss of her mother painfully evident when she said: “Above all, she was very clear that nothing would mean anything if I didn’t live a life of use to others. And I didn’t know what that meant for a long time. … It was only when I began to travel and look and live beyond my home that I understand my responsibility to others. … And to stand here today means that I did as she asked. And if she were alive, she would be very proud.” Just like Jolie, I longed to hear these words from my mother.
Usually people refer to Jolie as one of the most beautiful women in the world. I feel that way, too. But not because of her skin-deep beauty. I feel that way because of her heart-felt devotion to those without a voice of their own.