Is Angelina Jolie trying to represent refugees through the plot of Maleficent?

That clever vixen.

I have a sneaking suspicion that Angelina Jolie slipped something serious into her delicious new role as the most unapologetically evil Disney villain of all time.  I’d be excited even if she didn’t, of course. I haven’t seen her on a big screen in almost four years.  Even when she was working regularly, her face was a rare theatrical treat, so I’m already looking forward to this summer.  See for yourself:

Now, not just any old movie can get me into a theater seat — the last actual movies (vs. one-off Rifftrax or Doctor Who specials) I saw in theaters were This is the End last June and Cloud Atlas the October before that — but I will definitely be seeing this one more than once, including the obligatory contribution to her opening weekend figures (a habit to which I’m so loyal that I stopped a  family trip in its tracks to watch Mr. and Mrs. Smith alone in a San Francisco theater).

Anyway, she’s not my favorite celebrity of all time because she’s so stunning or so talented,  but because she’s also made herself valuable to people more deserving than studio executives and tabloid publishers.  I’m talking about women who suffered obscene injustices, hungry children who lost their parents, entire villages’ and countries’ worth of families who were driven from their homes and permanently scarred in ways that aren’t just physical.  And the more I hear about Maleficent, the more I believe that those very same people will be represented in its plot, maybe even by Maleficent herself.

Now, before I continue, I should make my extreme bias very clear.  I’ve been a fan since 2002, when I was a fourteen-year-old aspiring screenwriter.  When I won a scholarship to study poetry at Pratt all summer, my time in Brooklyn just happened to coincide with the entirety of her time in Manhattan, during the New York leg of her Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life promotional tour.  My friends even ran into her — she was standing at an intersection I’d crossed hours earlier – so of course I had to shake the hand that most recently shook her hand, and of course my mental stability was rightfully questioned.

So I remember poring over her interviews in those early, pre-Internet-gossip days, when I’d gobble up every word of her print interviews, and yes, I remember the first time she brought up her affinity for Maleficent.  She recalled others in the room expressing nervous concern when then-toddler Maddox pointed to the animated witch onscreen and cried, “Mommy!” But she claimed it was actually an absolute compliment, that she’d always felt a connection with that most perfect of Disney villainesses.  And it reaffirmed my view of her as a true feminist hero, a cog in the wheel of Hollywood sexism, a woman who would choose the villain’s powerful agency over the princess’s beautiful helplessness.

And it says something about my twelve-year obsession when I consider making my first Disney trip in years to see their new Maleficent parade float, a gigantic, steampunky dragon that will be winding down Main Street cobblestones that I can still feel beneath my feet if I try hard enough.

So, naturally, I’ve been excited about Maleficent since before it was even greenlit.  And now that I’ve seen two official trailers, the anticipation is palpable.  Those cheekbones!  Those eyes!  That VOICE!  Critics can knock her all they want for corny faux accents — though I don’t see any actual Brits doing anything but praising her British attempts — because damn does she do justice to Eleanor Audley’s iconic voice work.  Not to mention the promising CGI and her fairy tale chemistry with Elle Fanning.

But now that I’ve read the official synopsis, I’m starting to see a connection between her off-camera and on-camera roles…

A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal—an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces an epic battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom—and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well.  [from Disney’s official Maleficent Facebook page]

You don’t even have to replace “invading army” or “the land” with anything; this already reads like a description of so many conflicts happening around the world right now.  The internal displacement during conflicts in Palestine and Yemen and Iraq and Somalia and Sudan, the divisive and violent revolutions in Egypt and Syria… and every other evil that has turned 10.5 million people on this Earth into refugees.  And that’s not to mention the very foundation of modern society — the cities and states and entire countries that exist in their current form because of the bloody imperialism of real-life villains, from ancient Romans to my own country’s “first” settlers.

So I hope I’m not reading too much into this, that this connection isn’t wishful thinking, that this movie goes beyond rehashing an age-old theme to actually serve up a genuine indictment of modern conflict.

Since her last on-screen role, she has only returned to the movie industry to help tell important stories.  Her directorial debut, In the Land of Blood and Honey, reminded us that neighbors don’t just turn into killers and rapists in our textbooks and in the most “uncivilized” of modern societies — they did it in massive numbers, and to horrific results, in cities with cell phones and clothes that are still in fashion.  And now she’s back behind the camera for Unbroken, telling the story of an unconventional World War II hero, and I can’t even tell you how excited I am about that one… I mean, it’s a Coen brothers script for crying out loud.  It’s like this woman is intentionally defending her status as my favorite person in movies.

So is Maleficent something Angelina just did for her kids?  Did she sign on because she had to seize the opportunity to live one of her own childhood fantasies, to become the very same Disney villain she loved as a little girl?  Or did she gravitate toward this role for the same reason she chose to direct Unbroken  — to tell an important (yet conveniently and insanely compelling) story with incredible relevance to the most important and heartbreaking events happening right now in this world?

I’m sure this question will be answered long before the film itself premieres; I think I’ll have a hard time resisting the lure of spoiler-heavy press junkets this time around.  But however it happens, I can’t wait to find out.

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