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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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EW's Sean Smith: 'I joined the Peace Corps because of Angelina Jolie'

Angelina_jolie I've known Sean Smith for years, not as a close friend, but in the way you get to know someone by hanging out with them at movie screenings and awards season buffets, making sardonic quips about our shared experiences interviewing pampered movie stars and egomaniacal filmmakers. But Smith always seemed to have more on his mind than box-office returns and casting coups, so I can't say I was surprised to hear late last week that he was leaving his gig as L.A. bureau chief for Entertainment Weekly to join the Peace Corps. He'd applied for the job 18 months ago, and it was clear that Smith, who is far more thoughtful and idealistic than your average showbiz reporter, was ready for a change. 

What I didn't know is something that Smith reveals in a refreshingly honest article that he's just posted at the Daily Beast: Angelina Jolie gets the credit -- or the blame, as he wryly puts it -- for him ditching his 13-year career as an entertainment journalist. He says he has given away almost everything that he owns and is leaving for rural South Africa, where he will begin a 27-month commitment as an HIV/AIDS outreach volunteer. It was on a trip to interview Jolie in Mumbai in 2006 that Smith realized that something was amiss. As he writes:

I was good at my job and paid well, and yet I couldn't shake the sense that I was spending most of my energy on something that ultimately wasn't real. Writing about Hollywood is like being a reporter at Disneyland. At first, you can't believe that you get to spend every day in The Happiest Place on Earth. Everyone wants to ask you about your work. You're surrounded by princesses, and the sky sparkles with pixie dust. But as the years go on, you learn about the oily machinery that manufactures all that enchantment. You see what Cinderella's really like when that glass slipper comes off. And then one day you notice that the magic is gone, and all you're left with is a small, small world.

Many of us view Jolie as a caricature of the do-gooder Hollywood star who dabbles in humanitarian efforts as a way to cleanse herself of some of that very pixie dust. But Smith saw something different in Mumbai, a city where nearly half of its 18 million people live in horrific poverty. Jolie, who was there in her capacity as a U.N. goodwill ambassador, told him that "we all go through stages in our life where we feel lost, and I think it all comes down to having a sense of purpose. ... When I became a mom and started working with the U.N., I was happy. I could die and feel that I'd done the right things with my life." 

The message resonated with Smith, who realized that if he were willing to make a few sacrifices, "I could find my sense of purpose and engage myself in work that would feel meaningful to me and be helpful to others." So he's off to work in the Peace Corps. Jolie apparently gave him one other important tip. He says he's "currently trying to calculate how much Kiehl's moisturizer could fit in my 80-pound luggage allotment."  

I hope Smith will occasionally take time to share with us some of his experiences in South Africa, trying to make a difference in the world. And Sean, if you ever change your mind and want to come back, I can pretty much guarantee that all that silly enchantment will still be here -- the stars will still be showing up late for their interviews, the studios will still be telling whoppers about their movie budgets and the Golden Globes will still be providing all of us with great comedy material. The names may change, but those wonderful bedrock Hollywood values of ego and entitlement will remain the same. Aloha, shalom and happy trails to you.

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Angelina Jolie arriving at the 68th annual Golden Globes awards in Beverly Hills. Credit: Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images


Comments () | Archives (4)

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That's pretty cool.

Many of you that view Ms Jolie as a caricature of the do-gooder Hollywood star are lazy and are insulting more than 10 years of dedication to others. Ms Jolie doesn't give just her money she gives her time and dedication.

To start the notion that Ms Jolie needs or wants to clean anything is stupid. Everything the media and public knows about Ms Jolie and her, as you often call it wild youth, it's from Ms Jolie own mouth. I never seen Ms Jolie try to hide or clean any of her mistakes or flaws.

If Ms Jolie wanted to clean what she told herself she wouldn't need to into the field, sometimes to very danger places, she could do as all the other actors do, go to a dinner, get for a photo taken and give some money. You don't see Ms Jolie doing that.

Ms Jolie is a serious humanitarian.

Aren't you a journalist? So why don't you do a little research instead of dismissing more than 10 years of someone's work? Speak to people that work in the field, Ambassadors, Ministers, Presidents... learn about all the all the projects Ms Jolie is involved with.

I can help you with some information. Ms Jolie contacted the UN at the end of 2000 and in February of 2001 she was doing the first of more than 30 humanitarian trips. In August of 2001 Ms Jolie was appointed UNHCR Goodwill ambassador. Ms Jolie also started giving a third of her incame to charity.

Ms Jolie started and runs, now through the Jolie-Pitt Foundation, many interesting and effective projects. The Maddox Jolie Pitt Foundation that she started in 2003. [ You can find out more at this link ]
Ms Jolie also supports the SOS villages and individually sponsors 7 kids since 2003. Ms Jolie often supports and visits US military and their families. Ms Jolie has several schools for girls that she supports financial.

These are just a few that i recall after i meet someone that has worked with her in the field. After i found out the extent of her humanitarian work i have nothing but respect for Ms Jolie.

I find it very strange that the writer claims that many celebrity reporters/reporters find Angelina Jolie to be a "aricature of the do-gooder Hollywood star who dabbles in humanitarian efforts as a way to cleanse herself of some of that very pixie dust."

Angelina Jolie has been doing this work for nearly 10 years. It's not just going to countries and raising awareness about refugees but people know about the effective and thoughtful work that she is helping to fund and direct in Cambodia. The Maddox Chivan Jolie Pitt Children's Home which literally saves lives of children who would otherwise be dead of TB or Aids and giving them a future? The funding of the MJP Foundation which literally is helping thousands of cambodian villagers find sustainable economic growth without sacrificing their environment. From building roads to schools from building health centres to running health care programmes.

She is no dilettante. By all means mock those who are, but beware of cheap cynicisms which devalue really good work and demean really good intentions.

Many people like you that think Jolie is a caricature of a do gooder is exactly the problem with the world today. You, the so called journalists have become lazy, obnoxious and misogynists. How can you dismiss 10 years of dedication and tens of millions of dollars donated as dabbling? You do a lot of disservice to your readers by being so glib and flippant whithout checking your facts.

I know many of you dislike Jolie because she refuses to play your game but don't your readers intelligence with the nonsense that you just wrote. The same studios that you mock are the same ones that you are a mouth piece for when it suits your purpose. When it comes to humanitarian work, keep your snark away from Ms Jolie, she is way out of your league. It might not hurt for you to take a few of these trips to cleanse you.


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