THE CELEBRITY: BRAD PITT - LOS ANGELES - by
He lured the paparazzi to Africa, where people really needed
If it wasn’t for Brad Pitt, most Americans would never have heard
of Namibia. They might not know about AIDS orphans in South
Africa, or the plight of children in Haiti, or what transpired
at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Pitt, 42,
has been a movie star for 15 years—and a paparazzi target for
nearly as long. Celebrity mags have made millions reporting on
his love life, and the obsession only intensified when he began
romancing Angelina Jolie. So he started fighting back-but not
by punching photographers. If paparazzi were going to follow
the couple everywhere, Pitt figured they might as well drag
them somewhere that desperately needed the world’s attention.
“It’s the first time I’ve actually felt like we have some degree
of control over it,” says Pitt from his home in Malibu.. “I
can’t describe what an immense relief it is for me.” The
splashiest example of his new strategy unfolded example just
last month. He and Jolie, who, perhaps you’ve heard, recently
gave birth to their daughter Shiloh Nouvel in Namibia, sold
the coveted first baby photos to People magazine for a reported
$4 million-and gave all the money to African charities.
“Knowing that someone was going to hound us for that first
photo-and was going to profit immensely for doing it-I just
couldn’t live with it,” Pitt says. “We were able to turn that
around and collect millions for people who are really going
to need it.”
If Pitt was simply using his star power to force the celebrity
press to cover poverty and disease, that would be enough-heck,
it’s far more than most celebrities do. But Pitt has also been
studying trade issues, diving into why much of Africa is so
impoverished and how it can be turned around. “Industrialized
nations cost Africa three times what we give it in aid,”
he says. “We buy their coffee beans, but we don’t let them
process the beans, which is where the real money is. So what
we’re doing is digging a hole for them that they can’t get
out of, and then throwing a little money in the hole. The
odds are just stacked against them.”
Fatherhood, he says, helped accelerate his activism.
Not long before Shiloh was born, Pitt adopted Jolie’s son,
Maddox, whom she originally adopted from Cambodia, and her
daughter Zahara, whom she adopted last summer from Ethiopia.
“I look at [Zahara] and imagine what her life could have been,”
he says. “You want to grab as many of these kids in your arms
as you can. They need our help, and we should be doing more.”
He’s doing more in America, too. A longtime student of
architecture and an advocate of “green” design, Pitt saw an
opportunity after Hurricane Katrina to help rebuild New Orleans
in an innovative way. Joining forces with Global Green USA, an
environmental advocacy group, Pitt put up $100,000 to help
sponsor an architecture competition that requires contestants
to create affordable, multifamily housing for the city that is
ecofriendly and community focused. Global Green has already
received more than 3,000 submissions. “We can’t just consume
ourselves into extinction,” he says. “We have to find a new
paradigm, a new way of thinking. Of course, the ultimate goal
is to get the designs built. It’s a bit of a quagmire down there
now, so I see myself getting even more involved in the future.”
First, he has to be free to leave the house. Since returning
from Africa, the Jolie-Pitt clan has been swarmed by paparazzi.
“They’re outside the house right now, at least 40 of them,” Pitt
says, as a baby’s cry fills the background. “There are two boats
out in the water, and there’s an occasional chopper that goes
by.” Indeed, the sound of a helicopter propeller is so loud at
times during NEWSWEEK’s interview that Pitt can’t hear the
questions. “It’s madness,” he says. But he doesn’t sound annoyed.
Far from it: he sounds like any other blessed-out new dad.
“Do you have kids? It’s absolutely sublime.” You can virtually
hear him smile over the phone. “Whether you have them or adopt
them, they’re all blood. And the funniest people I’ve ever met.”
Pretty soon, it’ll be their generation’s world. “I’ve had the
luxury of being able to see these issues firsthand,” he says.
“If I don’t share that, I’m complicit in the problem.” Instead,
he’s making sure he’s part of the solution.