Cover Angelina Jolie dresses in a beekeeper's outfit at the French Apidology Observatory last July (Photo: Courtesy of Guerlain)

Angelina Jolie talks about why she finally joined Instagram, her humanitarian work, and why she is a fan of beekeeping

You can learn a lot from someone’s Instagram page. In Angelina Jolie’s case, her profile tells a story of someone who cares deeply about her children, the planet, and the people living on it.

After resisting any involvement with social media for decades, the star’s decision to join Instagram last August was something of a shock. Her first post was a letter from a teenage girl in Afghanistan, detailing the terrors of living under the Taliban regime. The post gained more than 700,000 likes within four hours and has since been liked more than 4 million times.

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At the time of writing, Jolie’s account boasts well over 11 million followers—yet the actor only follows three accounts: civil rights organisation NAACP, humanitarian NGO Doctors Without Borders, and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. Jolie may have become famous on account of her award-winning performances, but there is little suggestion of her primary occupation on her feed.

Instead, social media has become Jolie’s way of continuing her activism and spreading awareness of important topics, which has not been physically possible during the pandemic, something she has struggled with. “Not being able to visit the field for UN work has been hard. I’ve joined Instagram and am trying to use tools like that while I am limited in other ways,” she says.

The actor has spoken out on human rights, environmental issues, domestic violence awareness and youth protection, but at the heart of everything she fights for are “people worldwide who live with the daily reality of conflict and persecution”, she says; “people who have stood up against oppression, or refused to take up arms in a conflict, or left it all behind to give their children a chance at a better life and to live in safety.” 

And far from just lending her face and name to a cause, Jolie believes in walking the walk. She started her activism work nearly two decades ago in 2003, having fallen in love with Cambodia while filming Tomb Raider, and set up the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation, named after her eldest son, whom she adopted from the country in 2002. Her vision was to reduce rural poverty, protect the environment and conserve wildlife in the rural north-western part of the country.

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“When we began, the country was still in the aftermath of war, so we had very practical tasks like removing landmines. [The foundation] has grown over the years and now funds schools, health clinics, women’s empowerment and anti-poaching patrols,” says Jolie. “The team is entirely Cambodian, so the ethos is supporting local people to protect their natural resources and develop their communities as they wish to.”

And her activism has only snowballed since then. In 2021 alone, she co-produced several videos for the BBC, shedding light on issues such as Afghan girls’ dwindling safety, and co-wrote a book with Amnesty International called Know Your Rights and Claim Them. “[The book is] about helping young people to understand their legal rights, to identify who or what is standing in their way, and what they might do about it,” says Jolie. She also has one less predictable passion project: empowering women through bees.

Last year, Unesco, the UN’s human rights arm, and beauty company Guerlain launched Women for Bees, a five-year female beekeeping entrepreneurship programme which aims to empower women, providing them with skills to generate income through beekeeping, and to raise awareness of the importance of protecting bees. Jolie, who is a brand ambassador for Guerlain, took on the role of the programme’s godmother and visited the French Apidology Observatory last July to congratulate the programme’s first batch of seven graduates.

“Most of the beekeepers have changed their entire professional lives to come and participate.” says Jolie. “I love [Guerlain’s] desire to encourage women to be bold, and true to who they really are.”

Dressed in an airy protective bee suit, the actor was seen visiting seven beehives at the observatory, and footage of her calmly observing the swarms made the rounds. Moments of Jolie peering curiously at the bees, unbothered by the swarms of pollinators surrounding her, face radiant underneath the layers of protective mesh, were captured by the camera. Perhaps her tranquillity came from practice—just a few months earlier, she was photographed with dozens of bees resting on her bare face and body for National Geographic’s celebration of World Bee Day, an urgent call to protect the diminishing global population of the insects.

Bees contribute to more than US$200 billion worth of food production around the world; without them, the world could struggle to sustain the planet’s human population of nearly 8 billion. The most prominent causes of bee colonies collapsing are both manmade and natural, from pesticide use, global warming, air pollution and drought caused by humans to mite infestation, diseases and starvation. Guerlain’s Women for Bees programme hopes to help by building 2,500 native beehives by 2025, providing homes for 125 million bees. The programme will support 50 new female beekeepers selected from around the world in 25 Unesco-designated biosphere reserves across the globe. Following the programme launch in France, the Women for Bees scheme was launched in Cambodia last month, with 10 women enrolled and ready to become qualified beekeepers.

But this initiative is about more than the winged pollinators; when asked why she agreed to be a part of the programme, Jolie replies: “Because of its link to people. It’s not just about conserving bees; it’s about practical vocational skills and business, and strengthening communities.

“That’s what excites me most: the growing global network of women,” she says.

And while many people compartmentalise their career, family life and beliefs, the mother of six sees her activism as a key part of her life, encouraging her children to practise the same compassion and exhibit the same curiosity about the world.

“I’ve never thought of it as some separate interest or sphere of life. If you care about equality, equal rights and the equal treatment of all peoples, then it is not possible to tolerate the fact that millions of people are persecuted or are victims of war, not possible to accept that there are children abused and trafficked,” Jolie says.

“It’s that simple.”

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