Angelina Jolie Defends Immigrants at Telluride Panel

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Natalie Portman, Billie Jean King, Angelina Jolie, Alice Waters and Peter Sellars attend the Telluride Film Festival 2017 on September 2, 2017 in Telluride, Colorado.

The actress warns of “a very dark time” during Telluride's “Wonder Women” panel where Natalie Portman was also a speaker.

Angelina Jolie gave a spirited defense of immigrants and the value they add to the United States, when she spoke Sept. 2 at a panel titled “Wonder Women” at the Telluride Film Festival.

Referring to Loung Ung, the Cambodian émigré whose real-life suffering at the hands of the Khmer Rouge is the theme of her new movie, First They Killed My Father, Jolie noted: “When she was five, the Khmer Rouge took over.” That, she said, was “not unlike even some situations we can recognize today: there’s a country [arming itself] on the border; there are bombs that enter the country; there’s a vacuum left; ideologies rise; hate rises; and [there’s] a lot of lies and encouraging people to come together and rise up against outside influences. But in doing so, they are also rising up with a certain kind of ideology that is very hateful and aggressive.”

Ung, she noted, “lost her mother and her father and two of her sisters, and she was forced into labor camps. But she and some of her brothers and sisters survived, and she is extraordinary, and she came to America. And this morning I heard her thank America for embracing her as an immigrant and explain how much she hopes she has given back to America, and remind us all what is the best of America.”

Jolie was joined at the outdoor panel by three other women — tennis great Billie Jean King, actress-director Natalie Portman and restaurateur Alice Waters — in a session moderated by director Peter Sellars, in front of perhaps the largest crowd (several hundred) that had ever attended one of the Telluride “conversation” pieces.

While all four women were relatively subdued in their remarks, each was clear in her belief there should be a strategy for change, especially, as Jolie noted, given that this is “a very dark time.”

Describing the dawning of her own political awareness, Jolie explained: “I went to Cambodia about 16 years ago for a movie [Lara Croft: Tomb Raider]. We were the first film back after the war. It was a fun action movie. And when I got there I realized how ignorant I was to what was really happening in the world. I didn’t know what had happened in Cambodia. I didn’t understand my country’s connection to Cambodia. I didn’t understand how many landmines were still in the ground or how many refugees had fled, had returned, were in the world, how much inequality [there was and] how much injustice. And I started to dedicate myself to have a better education.”

King, whose 1973 tennis match with Bobby Riggs is the subject of Fox Searchlight’s new Battle of the Sexes, noted that in the early 1970s, when she was fighting for women’s equality: “Women could not get a credit card in 1973 on their own.”

Waters said her only goal at first was not so much to bring about change as to get a restaurant off the ground. “I was very naive and unprepared,” she said of her youth. “I was on the sidelines [of political change].” That altered with the radical thought she encountered in Northern California that transformed her thinking.

Asked about bringing a “feminizing” point of view to her art, Portman categorically rejected the male-female division implicit in the question. “I don’t really think there’s such a thing; there’s different point of views, and every human being has a different point of view,” she said. “There’s not a male-female difference. There are differences in the way are socialized. I find myself, when I go to express anger or embarrassment, I cry — that’s my first instinct — and I feel that’s a socialization thing, not a natural thing. I don’t think we teach girls how to express themselves in as many different colors as men.”

Like Waters, she cautioned the audience about the danger of living in “a disposable culture. If something is broken, throw it out, get something new. We’re literally facing an existential threat because of it. And it affects how we are as people, too, our relationships with people. If you spend all day going, ‘Something’s broken, throw it out,’ how are you going to be in a relationship?”

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