A woman is in trouble. Her husband is stalking her with a .45-caliber semi-automatic. She sits on the stairs of her lovely suburban home and raises her skirts, parting her legs—the standard trope of female submission. But instead of saving her ass by offering it up, she raises a pump-action shotgun and an H&K submachine gun and blasts the perfect house to bits in an attempt to blow her mate’s head off.
It’s a scene from Mr. & Mrs. Smith, the 2005 drama starring Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt that launched a thousand tabloid dramas. For me, that scene was a gift. Finally, a woman who isn’t a chump, who doesn’t go all gooey when she has to pull the trigger. A woman who can throw a punch. That movie changed my feelings for Jolie, which began as a schoolgirl crush (even though I was 28 at the time) when she played a mouthy, heroin-addicted model in Gia, the HBO biopic for which Jolie won a Golden Globe award. As Mrs. Smith, a contract killer trying to whack her husband before he gets to her, my feelings grew into pure idolation. I hadn’t had this much fun at the movies since Glenn Close boiled that bunny. My husband says it’s because I love any movie where a woman beats the crap out of a man. That’s certainly true, but there’s something special about Jolie. I defended her all through the Jennifer Aniston dustup. I still don’t get the big deal about kissing her brother and don’t even start with me on her family-building methods. To me, she can do no wrong, which is a little perplexing—especially since she is a strong contender for most beautiful woman in the world, and my default opinion of gorgeous people is that they’re all dopey narcissists. I’ve already watched the trailer for Salt—Jolie’s latest action flick, out July 23—way too many times. Salt’s the reason that Jolie’s in the news right now—she’s promoting her starring role as a CIA agent on the run. It looks like a cross between The Bourne Identity and Mission Impossible. I can’t wait.
I just love it when the bad guy is a kick-ass woman—the more wicked, the better. Glenn Close could sucker-punch me tomorrow and I would still love her for Damages (not to mention Fatal Attraction and Dangerous Liaisons). Seriously, I don’t think we have any idea how much media we consume where the woman is the hapless ingenue waiting for her prince. I’m sick of adorably, clumsy cutie-pies: the Katherine Heigels, the Kate Hudsons, the Jennifer Anistons—I could die. I think that simpering sexist sickness, Sex and the City 2, was the last straw. Real-world women haven’t been faring much better in the media, adding to my outrage—how about Tom Shales’s attack on Christiane Amanpour’s ability to host ABC’s This Week because he doesn’t like her hair or all the insulting public assurances the Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan really does like boys? Maybe it was the Tiger Woods/Jesse James/John Edwards horror shows that pushed me over the edge. I don’t know; it’s all starting to run together. Every week, there’s another humiliated woman on the cover of the tabloids. I’m sick of it. It’s as if Jolie is the only woman in the world who can head-butt a New York City police officer through the window of a moving van and not look ridiculous. It’s why I need this new movie so badly right now.
Jolie is my revenge fantasy. Onscreen, she’s constantly playing characters that run circles around men. Off-screen, she seems to mesmerize male reporters into fits of such purple prose that they forget to accuse her of misandry. Seriously, check it out here and here. Who wouldn’t want to intimidate men the way she can? In this month’s Vanity Fair, reporter Rich Cohen can’t even bring himself to call her attractive: “She is stunning in a period sort of way.” “Alien in that big-headed Martian way.” “She was set to maximum wattage, was the flame on the stove … when the fuel is entirely consumed by the fire.” He’s even hesitant to establish her humanity, describing her as an actress, a movie star, a matriarch, the captain, architect of the perfect family, but never a woman, doesn’t even refer to her as female. At some points in the interview, he sounds even afraid of her. “She was in a cabin belowdecks. I noticed everything … as you notice everything on a new level in a video game,” Cohen writes. “Because who know’s what you’ll need, what will be your demise.” As if she were an actual succubus.
Of course, a lot of people don’t like her. And that’s fine. It may be partly because she doesn’t play by the rules and seems to make no apologies for the way she lives her life. For me, someone who’s always been a bit of a people pleaser, that’s even more reason to love her. She’s not even a reliable bad girl. The tabloid narrative would have her sleeping with Johnny Depp, having torrid affairs with other A-list actresses, and smacking maids instead of touring refugee camps. Meanwhile, she’s funding a primary school for girls in Afghanistan, an AIDS and TB clinic in Ethiopia, the preservation of elephant migration trails in Cambodia, and the National Center for Refugee and Immigrant Children, among other charitable works. Maybe that’s why the tabs are constantly trying to find proof that her life is a sham. “Inside sources” accuse her weekly of being an indifferent mother, a slave-driving slob, an insatiable sex-fiend, and, of course, a shrew with Pitt’s testicles in a jar. Yet she doesn’t take the bait, switching to romantic comedies so people can see her soft side, crying on Barbara Walter’s shoulder. Her next two films are slated to be Cleopatra and Serena, the story of a frontier woman who, among many other things, tries to kill her stepson.
I’ve never met the woman—everything I know is from the roles she chooses and the few interviews she gives. I don’t have a clue where her characters end and she begins. But I don’t care. In real life, she could be a cross between Cruella de Ville and Glenn Beck. But for me, someone who spent years dreaming of escaping from or (I’ll admit it) desperately trying to meet male expectations and mostly failing miserably, Jolie is a dream come true. All my life I felt like I couldn’t live up to the conventional standard of beauty, with its constantly changing rules and ever stricter weight requirements. Growing up as one of the few black kids in my Connecticut high school, I always felt like “the other.” So, yeah, it doesn’t exactly require Freud to figure why I admire a beautiful white woman who, despite having won the genetic equivalent of Powerball, uses her beauty like a weapon against men, not as the sole attraction; a celebrity who seems to use her star power for good. Real or invented, women like her don’t turn up that often. So I don’t really care if Angelina Jolie is playing the PR role of a lifetime. If it’s all a lie—it’s still a beautiful one.