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What's the Deal with Angelina Jolie?

She’s one of the most hated people in Hollywood. Tabloids love to slam her; women scorned worldwide narrow their eyes when her perfect, pouty face appears on the TV screen. She is, after all, the villainess who single-handedly tore apart Hollywood’s favorite storybook romance.

She is, of course, Angelina Jolie. She may have things most people can only dream of: Unbelievable beauty. Unimaginable amounts of money. Brad Pitt. But is a disproportionately high run of good luck reason enough to hate Angelina Jolie? Jennifer Anniston supporters are quick to dismiss Angelina Jolie as nothing but a high-society homewrecker, but dismissals like this are gross oversimplifications, for Angelina Jolie is so much more. She has been a key player on the American cultural scene since the mid-90s. She is also one of the world’s foremost humanitarians. Unfortunately, her cultural and charitable contributions often get overlooked by the masses, who remain livid that this screen goddess stole one woman’s husband and millions of other women’s dreams.

Before we examine Angelina Jolie’s fall from grace, let us first look at her rise to fame. This star was born on June 4, 1975 in Los Angeles, California. At that time, her full name was actually Angelina Jolie Voight. If the name “Voight” sounds familiar, it should: Angelina Jolie’s father is the legendary actor Jon Voight, most noted for his work on cult classic films like Midnight Cowboy and Deliverance.

But Jon Voight was not the only star on Angelina Jolie’s horizon. Her whole family, it seemed, was famous. Her mother was the late actress Marcheline Bertrand (best remembered for her work in 1980s films like Lookin’ to Get Out and The Man Who Loved Women). Her uncle is renowned songwriter Chip Taylor, the genius who brought the world Wild Thing. Her brother is the up-and-coming actor/producer James Haven, who made notable appearances in Monster’s Ball and CSI: Crime Scene Investigations.  Even Angelina Jolie’s godparents are famous: her godmom is actress Jacqueline Bissett, famous not only for her acting in classic films such as Day for Night but also for having popularized the wet T-shirt contest. Ironically, Jacqueline Bissett was considered, in the 1970s, to be the most beautiful woman of all time—an honor often bestowed upon her goddaughter today. Goddad, meanwhile, is Maximilian Schell, a critically acclaimed Austrian actor whose work ranges from an extensive array of Nazi-era themed movies to recent classics like Deep Impact.

On a side note, they say that mixed babies tend to be the most beautiful, and Angelina’s unusual blend of blood lines may very well support this theory. Her father was of Czech descent; her mother was of French Canadian and Iroquois descent. Perhaps this interesting mix has something to do with her unearthly beauty. We will revisit this hypothesis later; for now, let’s return to the early days of Angelina Jolie.

With so many actors in her midst, one can’t help but wonder if an acting career wasn’t handed to Angelina Jolie on a silver platter. The answer: no, it wasn’t.  The Voights separated in 1976 and divorced two years later. Angelina Jolie didn’t grow up with her famous father; rather, she and her brother moved to Palisades, New York, with their mother. Interestingly, in spite of Jon Voight’s fame, Angelina Jolie credits her mother and brother for arousing her interest in acting. Marcheline Bertrand, herself a former aspiring actress, often took her children to movies. It was the strangers onscreen, and not Angelina Jolie’s own actor father, who fuelled her decision to pursue acting. Years later, Angelina Jolie’s brother James Haven would further her career by casting her in at least five of his student films during his time at the USC School of Cinema-Television (one of which earned him a George Lucas film award).

The trio moved back to Los Angeles, and Angelina Jolie began taking acting lessons at the age of 11. She trained for two years at the famous Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute, adding roles in several stage productions to her list of credentials.

Now comes the point that many of you bloodthirsty Jen-supporters have been waiting for: the proof that Angelina Jolie’s life hasn’t always been perfect. In fact, during her time at the dreadful Beverly Hills High School, Angelina Jolie’s life was anything but perfect. Angelina Jolie went to school with children from the area’s most affluent families, while she herself came from a modest-income, single-parent household. These rich brats were merciless with Angelina Jolie, taunting her for her extreme thinness, her second-hand outfits, her glasses and her braces. (Ironically, years later, tabloids would be similarly merciless. This time, however, the snide remarks would be regarding Angelina Jolie’s beauty—a true testament to the fickle nature of mankind.) Before you get all catty, thinking “We all wore glasses and braces and got taunted by rich brats. So what?” ask yourself this: was your pain and sense of isolation so great that you turned towards cutting yourself? Angelina Jolie’s was. Years later, Angelina Jolie gained the trust and respect of troubled viewers across North America when she discussed this dark period of her life on CNN, a period characterized not only by self-mutilation but also by black clothes, a dodgy live-in boyfriend, and aspirations towards a career as a funeral director.

Once this phase ended—Angelina Jolie still remains publicly cryptic as to why or how—she graduated from high school and returned to her theatre studies. Her career actually began around the age of 14, when she worked as a model for Finesse. She later went on to do music videos for several big names, including for world-renowned sex symbol Lenny Kravitz. She landed her first role at the age of 16: a German dominatrix. Whoever first said that actors first start out in boring bit roles had obviously not paid very close attention to Angelina Jolie’s career.

Remember the movie Hackers, released in 1995? It’s possible that you don’t—not many people went to see it at the theatre—but it was a very popular late-nineties rental. Remember it now? Remember the hot, pouty chick in that movie? That was Angelina Jolie, starring in her second starring role in a major movie. (Her first was the low-budget Cyborgs 2, where she gave a very convincing impersonation of a robot.) Hackers probably holds a special place in Angelina Jolie’s heart, since it is, after all, where she met her first husband, Jonny Lee Miller. No one talked much about this short-lived marriage, but then again, Jonny Lee Miller was never married to Jennifer Anniston.

Angelina Jolie then went on to act in several films whose titles would probably be unfamiliar to you, the least unfamiliar probably being Foxfire, a creepy flick about an even creepier girl gang based on a brilliantly written novel by Joyce Carol Oates. Angelina Jolie played the gang’s ringleader, a role for which she received praise just about everywhere the movie was released. Little by little, Angelina Jolie began appearing in movies we might still remember: Playing God, George Wallace, and the disturbing Gia. These movies earned Angelina Jolie rave revies and award nominations and wins all over the place. Emotionally drained from Gia, Angelina Jolie took a break from acting and briefly pursued filmmaking and writing.

Later, it was back to more notable films: Pushing Tin, The Bone Collector, and Girl, Interrupted. Angelina Jolie’s role in Girl, Interrupted won her several awards, including a coveted Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Many credit Girl, Interrupted for securing Angelina Jolie’s role as a Hollywood It-Girl. Others, however, claim it was her starring role in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider that did the trick. The movie itself was a critical laughingstock, but Angelina Jolie herself received rave reviews. The fact that she learned martial arts and wore tight bodysuits had a very positive impact on the size of her fan base.

Throughout these years, Angelina Jolie’s issues with her estranged father, Jon Voight, wove in and out of the tapestry of her life. Angelina Jolie made no secret of the fact that she blamed her father for the breakup of her family. The two attempted a few reconciliations, most notably when they appeared together in Tomb Raider, but they never fully made amends. Angelina Jolie went so far as to legally drop the Voight from her name; Jon Voight publicly proclaimed Jolie had “severe emotional issues,”; and Angelina Jolie, who’d by that point already adopted one son, publicly asserted that blood does not make you family.

Angelina Jolie made several movies after Tomb Raider, many of them critically successful, but we’ve reached the point in this article where it’s necessary to insert at least a little smut. Angelina Jolie’s first marriage lasted a mere year (three, if you count the time it took to finalize the divorce). She claims to still consider Jonny Lee Miller a friend, but realizes now that they were both too young. Angelina Jolie continued the trend of meeting husbands on set. Contender Number Two was acclaimed actor and eye candy specimen Billy Bob Thornton, whom she met on Pushing Tin. It’s hard to believe now that we’re so used to hearing about Brad and Angelina (or, as they’re better known, “Brangelina”), but Angelina and Billy Bob Thornton were once a pretty hot tabloid item themselves. Then again, they wore one another’s blood in vials around their neck, so one has to wonder if they weren’t asking for the attention.

Angelina and Billy Bob divorced in 2003, giving no real public explanation. But by 2005, everyone had other Angelina news to think about: in true Angelina Jolie fashion, she had fallen for a co-star. Inconveniently, this time it was an already married one: Brad Pitt, her co-star on Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Angelina Jolie adamantly denied having had an on-set affair with Brad Pitt while he was still married, citing her own pain over her father’s infidelity towards her mother as reason enough to stay back. Admittedly, the first tabloid photos of Brangelina didn’t appear until one month after Jennifer Aniston had mysteriously filed for divorce. This was when we first saw Brangelina plus Maddox (Angelina Jolie’s adopted son) on a beach in Kenya. In early 2006, Angelina Jolie broke the news: she was pregnant with Brad Pitt’s child.

One more thing: Angelina Jolie has also been voted among the world’s Most Beautiful People by several reputable sources, most recently by People in 2006.

Now that we’re done hating her, let’s talk about the reasons to love her. While filming Tomb Raider in poverty-stricken, mined Cambodia, Angelina Jolie became aware of poverty and determined to do her part to stop it. She became involved with UNHCR, touring refugee camps worldwide and growing increasingly horrified by what she saw. Don’t go imagining some glamorous publicity tour where Angelina toured camps by day and sipped martinis in the Sierra Leone Four Seasons by night; she covered all her own expenses on these tours and slept in camps with aid workers. She donated $1 million to Afghan refugees during a UNHCR call for emergency aid. In 2001, impressed by her commitment to the cause, the UNHCR named her an honorary Goodwill Ambassador. She raised awareness of the plights of numerous refugees in just about every developing country; local politicians praised her ability to bring a little joy into these people’s otherwise extremely difficult lives. She has gone to Washington several time to lobby for human rights causes. Her efforts have even earned her Cambodian citizenship.

And, just in case you’re still not convinced that Angelina Jolie really is a wonderful person beneath that perfect face, remember this: three out of Angelina Jolie’s children have been adopted from developing countries—one Cambodian, one Namibian, and one Vietnamese. When the news first broke that Angelina Jolie wanted to deliver her and Pitt’s child in Namibia, the birthplace of her adopted daughter, outrage broke out: what a shameless, attention-seeking diva! Sadly for gossip hounds, this was yet another Angelina Jolie misconception. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt sold the baby photos to U.S. magazine People and U.K. magazine Hello! for unprecedented amounts of money each. Later, they gave all that money—all $10 million of it—to charity.

Will you still be bashing Angelina Jolie at the water cooler at work today? Didn’t think so.