It’s been a difficult few years for Angelina Jolie. In 2013, for instance, she underwent a double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer. In 2015, meanwhile, she had her ovaries and Fallopian tubes removed for health reasons, too. And, perhaps most painfully of all, in 2016 she had a very public split from her former husband Brad Pitt. In 2017, however, the actress revealed that she had faced yet another obstacle – and she courageously opened up about it to a magazine.
Regardless of the troubles in her personal life, though, Jolie remains one of the most respected women in Hollywood. Even without Brad Pitt by her side, in fact, she’s a force to be reckoned with. For one, she’s raised six children – three adopted and three biological. At the same time, she’s carried out extensive philanthropic work as well as acting in and directing movies. Plus, she’s utterly stunning-looking – one of the most beautiful women in the world, in fact, according to some.
Indeed, such is Jolie’s influence that she actually improved the health of women around the world simply by speaking out about her mastectomy. After she made the announcement, there was a sudden huge increase in the number of women who decided to undergo the potentially life-saving test. Time dubbed this “The Angelina Effect,” and there was no doubt that it was a wonderful – if indirect – achievement for the actress.
In July 2017, however, Jolie gave an in-depth interview to Vanity Fair – one of the few she’s given since her divorce proceedings began. And in it, the activist spoke out about another health problem that has affected her life. That condition, moreover, may not be as life-threatening as cancer, but it is nevertheless a lot less talked about – perhaps why Jolie decided to speak out in the first place.
Specifically, that condition is Bell’s palsy – a paralysis which causes loss of control in the facial muscles. Bell’s palsy can also cause new and unpleasant sensations like a sudden sensitivity to loud noises, uncontrollable muscle twitching, droopy eyelids and ear pain. It can even affect the taste buds, too. And, rather frighteningly, it may develop with no warning whatsoever in an individual.
Thankfully, though, Bell’s palsy is rare. But scientists still don’t know exactly what causes it. Some researchers believe, however, that it may be caused by viral infections that cause the facial nerve to become inflamed and disrupt the brain signals which control the facial muscles. Bell’s palsy has also been linked to a multitude of other health conditions, including diabetes and the herpes virus. Furthermore, doctors have considered that stress and trauma may increase the risk of suffering from it, too.
Perhaps, then, the strain that Jolie has been under helped bring on Bell’s palsy. After all, the process of going through a divorce is never an easy thing, regardless of your level of fame. And for Jolie, the press intrusion and having to be there for a large family of children while splitting from their father would have only added to the stress. Indeed, the actress said as much in her Vanity Fair interview.
“Sometimes women in families put themselves last,” Jolie told Vanity Fair, “until it manifests itself in their own health.” There were other signs, too, that the divorce had taken a heavy toll on her. Vanity Fair reported that Jolie had gained some gray hairs post-split, for instance, and that her skin was dehydrated. “I can’t tell if it’s menopause or if it’s just been the year I’ve had,” Jolie said of these features.
And it had indeed been a terrible year by anyone’s standards. Indeed, while the precise reasons for the Pitt-Jolie divorce have been kept very under wraps, some details have nevertheless leaked out – and they didn’t sound very pleasant. Reportedly, the catalyst had been a fight between Brad Pitt and his and Jolie’s oldest son, Maddox. What exactly happened then may well never be known, but there was a brief period afterward where Pitt was even investigated for child abuse. Ultimately, though, he was exculpated of any charges.
There had also been persistent rumors that Pitt had been unfaithful – specifically, that he had cheated on Jolie with his Allied co-star Marion Cotillard. And that speculation caused many to recall how Pitt and Jolie themselves had fallen for each other. Famously, the pair had met on the set of Mr. and Mrs. Smith in 2004, while Pitt was still married to Jennifer Aniston.
However, the affair was denied by both parties. Indeed, after news of the divorce hit, Cotillard crafted a long response on Instagram to silence any gossip-seekers. “I am not used to commenting on things like this, nor taking them seriously. But as this situation is spiralling and affecting people I love, I have to speak up,” she wrote, before speaking about her love for her husband and family.
“To all the media and the haters who are quick to pass judgment, I sincerely wish you a swift recovery,” Cotillard continued. “Finally, I do very much wish that Angelina and Brad, both whom I deeply respect, will find peace in this very tumultuous moment.” But when an entire family is split up and swept away in a tide of rumors, peace may be extremely hard to find.
And Pitt seemingly suffered in the wake of the divorce news, too. Press reports at the time described him as “gaunt,” for instance. Then, in May 2017, the actor spoke to GQ Style about “becoming a better man” in an interview that was full of sadness for the way things had turned out. “Our focus is that everyone comes out stronger and better people – there is no other outcome,” he added to the magazine.
And Jolie did come out the other side of her new medical condition. In fact, Bell’s palsy, despite being so little-known and little-investigated, is actually fairly treatable most of the time. Physiotherapy, steroids and – in serious cases – surgery are all treatments that have had success, for instance. Jolie, however, used acupuncture, the efficacy of which has not been studied much in Bell’s palsy sufferers. Still, it seemed to have worked for her.
Unfortunately, though, the revelation about Jolie’s health was somewhat swept aside, as something else in the Vanity Fair interview garnered distinctly more media attention. In it, Jolie had also spoken about her new film First They Killed My Father, a drama about the Khmer Rouge genocide. And the description of how she had cast her lead child actor caused a lot of controversy.
Namely, Jolie revealed that she and her team had visited poor areas and orphanages to find a suitable child actor. Moreover, they would “audition” children by asking them to pretend to steal some money. The orphans then had to come up with an explanation once they were “caught” and made to give it back. The girl eventually chosen had wanted the money to pay for her grandfather’s funeral.
And so for a few days, Jolie’s Bell’s palsy news was buried in the wake of her casting revelations. Given that the actress has made a name for herself as a staunch defender of human rights, people were particularly shocked at the idea that she might have exploited a child’s poverty for a movie. It wasn’t long, however, before she released a statement on the matter. “Every measure was taken to ensure the safety, comfort and well-being of the children on the film starting from the auditions through production to the present,” she said.
“I am upset that a pretend exercise in an improvisation, from an actual scene in the film, has been written about as if it was a real scenario,” she continued. “The suggestion that real money was taken from a child during an audition is false and upsetting. I would be outraged myself if this had happened.” This quelled the concerns, more or less, and so people then focused on the other things Jolie had said in the interview.
Jolie also told Vanity Fair, for example, that she no longer felt like a sex symbol. Now, she had much more important goals in life. “I actually feel more of a woman because I feel like I’m being smart about my choices. And I’m putting my family first, and I’m in charge of my life and my health,” she said. “I think that’s what makes a woman complete.” The message was clear: she was healing and she wanted to focus on her children.
So, the Vanity Fair interview did a lot of things – it looked into Jolie as a person, unpicked her post-divorce life and caused some trouble. But, perhaps most importantly, it brought a little-known illness into the spotlight, if only for a while. Perhaps, then, Jolie’s revelation may lead to more awareness or even more funding for Bell’s palsy sufferers. Indeed, The Angelina Effect may yet strike again.