Millions of Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes in order to escape the barbarism of the Islamic State, traveling to northern Iraq for refuge. Last month, Angelina Jolie was there to meet some of the terrified refugees and hear their harrowing stories.
Jolie, whose second directorial project, “Unbroken,” far exceeded box office expectations this winter, has proven she’s willing to take on challenges that cause others to hesitate. The rights to World War Two legend Louie Zamperini’s odyssey of a life had changed hands for years in Hollywood, with no one willing to commit to the work it would take to bring his story to the big screen. Jolie, however, boldly accepted the challenge and directed a two-hour stunner of a movie that did justice to Zamperini’s heroic tale. Now, she is proving once again that she has the guts to tell a story that needs to be told.
Jolie traveled to a Kurdish refugee camp in Dohuk, where over 2 million Iraqis have fled, to speak with victims of the Islamic State. She listened to their experiences and turned two of those tragic stories into short documentaries, which have been published exclusively with The Guardian.
The first film features a woman named Sabreen and her little sister, Dilvian. Sabreen began by describing how she was treated at the hands of Islamic terrorists. Her recollection is not for the faint of heart:
“For one hour a day they electrocuted me. They put electric cables to my head, my hands and my feet. I was crying and begging him to stop but he wouldn’t listen.”
This story was hard enough to listen to - I can’t imagine actually being on the receiving end of such torture or being forced to watch it as her little sister did. Although they managed to eventually escape from the terror, the brutal memories of their captivity remain.
In Jolie’s second film, a woman named Amusha recounts how she and her daughter were forcibly separated before her daughter was kidnapped by Islamic State militants. Through tears, Amusha said her daughter is “like a shining star.”
Jolie has done much more than make movies to share horrifying stories like these. To bring more awareness to the barbarism of the Islamic State, the Hollywood actress and director has opened an academic center at the London School of Economics (LSE) in order to combat global issues like rape and women’s role in politics. Her motivation could not be any clearer:
“If you were to ask me who I think this centre is for, I picture someone who is not in this room today,” Jolie said. “I think of a girl I met in Iraq three weeks ago. She is 13 years old, but instead of going to school, she sits on the floor in a makeshift tent.”
Islamic terrorism cannot be swept under the rug. Fox News’ Harris Faulkner recently listed ISIS’ cruel guidelines for women, which include such standards as these: Girls can marry at age 9, they must stay behind closed doors, beauty salons are the work of the devil, and women should not be corrupted by a job. When Faulkner finished listing these harsh rules, she had no choice but to describe the terrorist group as an ‘army of pedophiles.’
Jolie has proven she is one of those rare Hollywood celebrities who is not just talking about change - she’s leading it. It’s unfortunate that the first headlines that come up with a Google search of her name still largely includes gossip about her personal life. Her efforts on behalf of the victims of terrorism should be her real claim to fame. Hopefully her new films, and the subjects they follow, get the paparazzi-like attention they deserve.