A Tale of Two Actresses

In the Hutong
In search of a pain reliever
2027 hrs.

Whatever you may think about the relative merits of entertainers leaping from the screen and onto the world stage, we were treated this week to a profound contrast in the styles and approaches of two young actresses.

Exhibit A is Marion Cotillard, the 32-year-old French actress who won the Academy Award for Best Actress a little over a week ago for her apparently inspired performance as Edith Piaf (yes, I too am a philistine and had to Google it) in La Vie en Rose. In an interview from a year ago broadcast on a French website, she proclaimed that the 9/11 attacks were a hoax manufactured by the US government for political ends, and that the twin towers were demolished because they were obsolete.

Without supporting or debating the veracity of Ms. Cotillard’s claims, suffice to say that we here in the Hutong appreciate a good conspiracy theory in the same way we appreciate good science fiction – great stuff with which to tickle the frontal lobes, maybe even ask a few hard questions. But as most bloggers learn fairly quickly, when one takes a public stand that is in direct opposition to popular perception, one had best be very, very sure of one’s facts and be prepared to support one’s stand through effort and action. Sadly, Ms. Cotillard goes no further than voicing an opinion that begs for support.

Exhibit B is Angelina Jolie, also 32, also an Oscar winner (Best Supporting Actress for 1999’s Girl, Interrupted) who in her capacity as goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commission on Refugees decided that rather than snuggle up to the armchair activist crowd, she’d hop on a plane and head for Iraq and see what was going on. From her Thursday op/ed in the Washington Post:

“My visit left me even more deeply convinced that we not only have a moral obligation to help displaced Iraqi families, but also a serious, long-term, national security interest in ending this crisis.”

She continues:

“As for the question of whether the surge is working, I can only state what I witnessed: U.N. staff and those of non-governmental organizations seem to feel they have the right set of circumstances to attempt to scale up their programs. And when I asked the troops if they wanted to go home as soon as possible, they said that they miss home but feel invested in Iraq. They have lost many friends and want to be a part fo the humanitarian progress they now feel is possible.”

Her conclusions are hardly those of an expert, and her focus is exclusively on the issue of the 2.5 million Iraqi refugees for whom she seeks repatriation. More than one pundit has questioned her qualifications to speak on behalf of all of the troops deployed in Iraq. Nonetheless, they are startling because they come from an unexpected source, and because of the inevitable reverberations they will send through celebrity salons on both coasts – not least the circles in which she and husband Brad Pitt circulate.

(For the record, I don’t feel qualified to make a call on Iraq either way, so I won’t.)

Again, leave aside your own opinions on the specific matters at hand. To me what is germane is the difference in approach. Two young women, each given the opportunity because of fame earned on the screen to voice their opinions on larger matters to their audiences, chose to make use of their bully pulpits in incredibly different ways. One chose to make the kind of flippant, uninformed remark more appropriate to a conversation with close friends. The other chose to take the time and risk to journey to someplace she could learn more, then share her thoughts and findings – whatever they’re worth – with others.

Regardless of what you may think about Ms. Jolie, her motivations, the appropriateness of her remarks, or her qualifications to even make them, you must applaud her quest to learn a little something of the subject before volunteering so public an opinion.

A wise old sergeant once told me: “Wolf, opinions are like a**holes: everyone’s got one, and they all stink.”

The only way I would dare to correct that is to say that the more informed your opinion, the less it stinks. That is the lesson I will take from Ms. Cotillard and Ms. Jolie.


About David Wolf

An adviser to corporations and organizations on strategy, communications, and public affairs, David Wolf has been working and living in Beijing since 1995, and now divides his time between China and California. He also serves as a policy and industry analyst focused on innovative and creative industries, a futurist, and an amateur historian.
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