The Problem with Angelina…

by maxmosher

The trouble with Angelina Jolie is not her beauty or her talent, nor the fact that since arising to fame she’s had at least four different personas (naughty-bisexual-scarlet-haired-daughter-of-Jon-Voigt; gothy-Oscar-winner-making-out-with-her-brother; knife-playing-wife-of-Billy-Bob-Thornton; and finally, international-good-doer-and-earth-mother-with-beautiful-Brad-in-tow).

Her problem isn’t the fact that, despite no one really watching her movies, she’s the most famous actress in the world, largely for playing the seductress in the Jennifer Aniston-Brad Pitt love triangle, which was, for all intents and purposes, a remake of the split of good girl Debbie Reynolds and cad Eddie Fisher, with Angelina taking the role of then-‘most beautiful woman in the world’ Elizabeth Taylor. (A pop cultural allegory whose legitimacy was increased threefold when I saw no less than Carrie Fisher, daughter of Debbie and Eddie, compare her parents to Aniston and Pitt!)

 The problem isn’t even that, in keeping with being the Elizabeth Taylor for the 21st century, she’s reprising Taylor’s most famous (and worst) role, that of Queen Cleopatra. The role of the last pharaoh of Ancient Egypt is a cursed one, with many an actress’s career being killed alongside the tragic queen’s suicide by snake bite, and Angelina would be wise to listen to the warnings delivered to Cleo’s Roman sugar daddy Julius Caesar and “Beware!”

The problem with Angelina Jolie is nothing to do with personality or PR or talent. The problem is literally only skin deep. She’s the wrong colour.

Wrong colour for some, I should add. Despite the unavoidable fact that the queen was ethnically Greek, for more than a century we have wanted her to be dark-skinned (at least Middle Eastern, if not African-looking) to provide a beautiful and powerful historical role model for young women of colour (or at least use her glamorous image to sell makeup and shampoo). So, even though the real Cleopatra was more Nia Vardolas than Beyonce Knowles, the casting has been criticized. The editors of Essence claimed that Angelina stole a role which was rightfully that of a “Black woman”.

All of this seemed very familiar and suddenly I remembered the controversy which surrounded Angelina’s casting in A Mighty Heart, playing Mariane Pearl, the wife of slain reporter Daniel Pearl. Some people objected to the casting of Jolie because Pearl is of mixed-race heritage. As Angelina pointed out at the time, Pearl’s father was Jewish-Dutch and her mother Afro-Chinese-Cuban: if they were determined to find an actress with the exact same genetic background, the casting director may still be working on it today. And Pearl herself, who personally chose Angelina for the part, told reporters the colour of someone’s skin is less important than who they are as a person and that she felt a kinship with Jolie, before adding “she is way more beautiful than I am!”

The real Cleopatra was an intelligent charmer, both blessed and cursed with a dynastic lineage, who used her wiles to forge alliances with powerful men. While ultimately this did not save her kingdom’s independence, it resulted in her fame as the most beautiful woman in the world.

Perhaps the similarities are more than skin deep.