Angelina Jolie: World Refugee Day 2009
At the World Refugee Day commemoration on June 20, 2009, Angelina Jolie stood on the stage, but she wasn’t performing this time. Instead, she, as an United Nation Goodwill Ambassador, paid tribute to the millions of uprooted people across the globe who were forced to leave their countries in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. While being filmed and broadcasted live on the televisions, she delivered a speech to inform the audience the idea of “refugees are not numbers” and incite public’s awareness for the refugees. With the use of emotional and logical appeals, personal anecdotes, as well as parallelism, Jolie illustrated the bravery and resilience of the refugees in order to raise people’s concern to those impoverished that were being ignored.
Angelina Jolie is one of the most well-known leading actress in Hollywood. She has been participating in humanitarian aid events, and she was appointed the Goodwill Ambassador by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in 2001. She has visited impoverished and displaced people in more than 20 countries including Iraq, Tanzania, and Afghanistan (Raina). On one of the World Refugee Day commemorations held annually by UN Refugee Agency on June 20 (“Refugees”), Jolie gave the public her best knowledge on and own experience with those refugees in the hope of drawing public’s attention to the plights of refugees throughout the globe.
Jolie’s speech begins with a parallelism that conveys the idea of “refugees are not numbers.” She said, “they’re not even just refugees. They are mothers and daughters and fathers and sons – they are farmers, teachers, doctors, engineers, they are individuals all. And most of all they are survivors…they are the most impressive people I have ever met and they are also some of the world’s most vulnerable.” Her use of parallelism emphasizes that refugees should not be seen as meaningless numbers of population; instead, each of them is an unique individual and bears no difference with the audience. The parallelism makes the audience feel closer and easier to relate to the refugees, which will allow them to be more willing to put themselves in refugees’ shoes. Also, the word “survivors” and the phrase “world’s most vulnerable” raise sympathy among the audience and makes them realize how urgently the refugees are in need of help.
Jolie followed up with multiple stories of her own encounters with the refugees to reveal the real states and conditions of them. First, she shared a story of a pregnant Afghani woman, who found no way to be relocated back to her people because of late pregnancy. She described the woman’s situation by saying that, “I remember meeting a pregnant Afghani woman in a completely abandoned camp…There was nothing for miles around the camp – not a single tree, no other people in sight.” This clearly illustrates the hardship and plight that refugees face. Jolie furthered the story by describing how the pregnant woman begged them to take her child, who was starving and always asked the woman for food. “And she asked if we would consider taking him, would we take her sons so he could eat. And she said it with tears in her eyes with such a desperation. A desperation unimaginable to every parent in this room.” She defined the desperation as “unimaginable to every parent in this room.” The phrase emotionally evokes the parents who were listening to the speech, and also connects the audience to the refugees through the noble parental love.
Jolie then inspired the audience with another story of a paralyzed child in Tanzania. Despite his casualties, the child was described by Jolie as “bog pretty eyes, big wide sparkling smile, and after he’d been to, he’s full of laughter and love.” While the vivid descriptions create images in the audience’s mind, they also reflect and acknowledge the refugees’ resilience and bravery. Later on that trip, Jolie met a 8-year-old girl who witnessed the slaughter of her family. The girl not only survived, but she also saved her little brother. As Jolie said, “that little girl had a depth and a strength that I will never know.” This story again illustrates that refugees are indeed survivors with strength and unbreakable spirit. Jolie emphasized the strength of the little girl with the phrase “I will never know.” The phrase further enhances how Jolie was impressed by the refugees and will allow the audience to be more emotionally impacted.
Jolie’s use of logic is another powerful tool to inform the publics how grievous the refugee issue is. She said, “We should never forget that more than 80% of refugees are hosted and have been for years and years in the poorest developing countries. Pakistan, a country now facing a crisis with over 2 million of its own people despised is still hosting 1.7 million Afghans and has hosted millions of Afghan families for nearly thirty years.” Numerical datum directly challenge the audience to realize the magnitude of the refugee crisis in the world, and the audience will find Jolie’s speech more reliable and logical with the help of statistics.
Angelina Jolie, now an Special Envoy in UNCHR (“Special Envoy”), still gives speeches to raise public’s attention to “the world’s most vulnerable,” the refugees, and visits displaced people who need the help of the world. Though Jolie has given many speeches, the one she gave at World Refugee Day commemoration 2009 is perhaps the most touching yet inspiring. Her successful use of emotional and logical appeals, personal stories with vivid descriptions, and parallelism all together allows her to evoke the audience’s sympathy and inform them the serious crisis that is happening at places being ignored by the public. Although Jolie’s speech may not be influential enough to affect globally, it did inspire more people to give their hands to support those impoverished refugees who lose their homelands due to devastated reasons.
Kelley, Raina. “The Secret World of Angelina Jolie.” Newsweek, 13 July 2010, www.newsweek.com/secret-world-angelina-jolie-charity-work-74853.
“Refugees, UNHCR, Displaced, Migrants, Migration, Asylum, Human Rights.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/en/events/refugeeday/.
“Special Envoy Angelina Jolie.” UNHCR, www.unhcr.org/special-envoy-angelina-jolie.html.