19 July 2019
Angelina Jolie is seen in this file picture visiting the world's largest refugee camp on Kenya's border with Somalia in 2009. Photo: UNHCR
Angelina Jolie is seen in this file picture visiting the world's largest refugee camp on Kenya's border with Somalia in 2009. Photo: UNHCR

Why Angelina Jolie’s new role is so phenomenal

Hollywood superstar Angelina Jolie has landed a new role: She has been appointed a “visiting professor in practice” at the world-renowned London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

Starting from next year, the 40-year-old actress and director will teach parts of a new master’s program on “women, peace and security” offered by the school.

The LSE said it offered Angelina Jolie such position, the first of its kind in the global academic sector, because of her distinguished record and remarkably broad experience in promoting women’s rights around the world.

Some critics have dismissed her appointment as tokenism or even a publicity stunt.

However, for me, it is both inspiring and phenomenal that renowned academic institution like the LSE has both the vision and guts to break conventional and rigid rules in the academic world, and offer a teaching position to someone with highly practical experience rather than academic achievements in a particular field.

Unlike their Asian counterparts, who often refrain from taking a stance on political issues in public, many prominent western actors and actresses are more than eager to champion social, religious and political causes.

And Jolie is perhaps the most active and notable one among them.

When Jolie was filming Lara Croft: Tomb Raider in Cambodia back in 2000, she visited refugee camps for the first time, and was appalled at their suffering.

Since then she has devoted herself to the cause of helping refugees and promoting women’s rights in war-torn countries.

She has formed a long-term partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In the following year she was appointed a goodwill ambassador of the UNHCR, and so far she has paid over 50 official visits to more than 30 countries across the Middle East and South Asia.

In 2012 Jolie was appointed special envoy of the UNHCR, and she launched the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict initiative along with former British foreign minister William Hague.

Her efforts have inspired many Hollywood stars to get actively involved in social causes.

Emma Watson, for example, has been helping promote “He for Her”, a feminist initiative.

According to Professor Daniel W. Drezner of Tufts University, Jolie is so successful in her role as a civilian diplomat because she is able to translate her own popularity and glamor into influence on government policies.

After all, we need someone with the common touch and practical experience, rather than those who spend most of their lives in the ivory tower, to solve real issues and get real things done.

And I hope the LSE appointment will serve as an inspiration and a reminder for the academic world: to make our world a better place to live, we not only need to talk the talk, but also walk the walk.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept. 2.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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