Angelina Jolie on Actresses’ Responsibility to Help Less Privileged Women

The Hollywood Reporter hosted its 2017 Women in Entertainment Breakfast on Wednesday, and Angelina Jolie took the stage to give an emotional speech about women around the world who are denied basic rights and freedoms—and the importance of being an artist and using that position to help others during such a time.

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“We have in this room the ability to help those women, artists struggling, to help find a way to make sure their voices are heard,” Jolie said. “To show solidarity with them. To champion them. To help them tell their stories.”

Jolie talked about the women across the world who are unable to use their voice or have an opinion, and how many are unable to exercise their creativity without fear of retribution or punishment. She finished the speech by thanking the “women, artists, journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers around the world” who fight so that “others, one day, will have the freedoms that we have.”

I imagine many of us in the room began this morning at home making breakfast and listening and doing last minute homework and listening and debating the importance of brushing teeth. And listening after you say you have to get ready now and they say why don’t you just go like that, and you’re so tired, you think, oh maybe.

But that’s the life of a woman, to think of others first is our nature. And when my children asked me this morning, I explained why I wanted to be here, why I feel it’s important to be with other women and talk about those women and women in art.

All of us here are different people, but we have something quite radical in common. We have the freedom to be artists. The freedom to create, to challenge authority fearlessly, to laugh at power and make others laugh with us. The right to speak truth as we see it. We all know women in our lives who were never able to live their creative dreams because they had to put their families first. Who pour their creative work into homework assignments and birthday parties. I think of my own mom.

And we all know that our industry lacks diversity and equality and that there is so much that we have to change and fight for. But we have a level of freedom that is unimaginable for millions of other women around the world. Women who live with conflict and terrorism and displacement and poverty, who never get a chance, whose voices are always silenced. We don’t have to keep our heads down. We don’t have to think that the film we make or our comments on politics or joke we tell on stage could land us in prison where we might be tortured or punished. We don’t live with censorship. We don’t have to worry that acting in a play or singing on television will bring violence or dishonor to our families. We don’t have to tailor our clothes or our opinions to what is acceptable to religious authorities or violent extremist groups. We are not shunned and considered immoral as women because we dare to speak our mind about what we consider to be wrong in society.

We have the right to think freely and to speak freely and to put forward our ideas on equal terms. And there are women across the world who face serious danger and get hurt just trying to have a voice, just an opinion. So it’s hard to celebrate our progress while this is still the case, but it means that asserting ourselves as female artists represents something really, really important in the world today. And participating in art and culture, it’s not a luxury for a privileged few in society. It is in fact a human right laid down in the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Every woman has a right not only to independence and security but to live her life to the full and to express herself to the full, including through art and ideas as well as politics. And that right is denied so often to women because it is so powerful.

Art influences and it catches the imagination, it challenges orthodoxy and societies where women are denied freedom of expression, those societies are being shaped without the voice and influence and wisdom of women. So that is why I’m so grateful to be a part of this community and the wider community of artists around the world. I’m so happy to be here with you today, and so together we stand for more than our rights and freedoms but we do stand for the freedoms and rights of all women. We have in this room the ability to help those women, artists struggling, to help find a way to make sure their voices are heard. To show solidarity with them. To champion them. To help them tell their stories. So I look forward to working with many of you, all of you, on that effort.

I thank you. I thank the Hollywood Reporter for this event, for allowing us to be together and to speak. And I congratulate everyone being acknowledged, particularly everyone involved in the scholarship program. And I want to thank all the amazing women artists I’ve worked with over the years and learned so much from. And I pay tribute, and we all do, to all the women who came before us, who pushed the boundaries in their lifetime so that we could be standing here today. And above all, pay tribute to the women, artists, journalists, human rights defenders and lawyers around the world who refuse to be intimidated. The brave people who are fighting so that others, one day, will have the freedoms that we have. So I’m very, very proud to stand with all of you. Thank you very much.

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