Angelina Jolie struck a poignant and empowering chord on Thursday night, presenting national youth poet laureate Amanda Gorman with Variety‘s Power of Women honor.
The superstar director, actor and humanitarian arrived at the Beverly Hills celebration presented by Lifetime with daughter Zahara Jolie-Pitt in tow, to hand the honor to Gorman — the poet who captivated the country in January at the inauguration of President Joe Biden.
“The young woman of grace, who stepped fearlessly to the podium on inauguration day. Not just the youngest but the strongest voice we could ask for in that moment. The Amanda we see today might seem as if she leapt into our times, fully formed, to summon our better angels. But there was an Amanda we didn’t see,” Jolie said.
“A little girl with a speech impediment. In her own words, ‘a buck-toothed, kinky-haired, speech-garbled 7-year-old.’ Scribbling in her journal, on the school bus and park bench. wrestling with language, puzzling out meaning and rhyme, inventing her own dictionary. All those hours of thought and creation forged the unfaltering woman you see today,” Jolie said.
Jolie applauded Gorman’s ability to hone her words in deep solitude and express them in multitudes, saying if anyone can “bring people to the streets” with their words in this urgent moment, it is Gorman.
“So as well as celebrating your extraordinary achievements, Amanda, we honor 7-year-old you, and every other girl who feels she is an outsider, alone, when she is simply coming into her own,” said Jolie. “So many girls have their progress in life derailed — by poverty, by the disapproving word, the clenched fist, or the steel of the gun. How many Amanda’s are living in Afghanistan, hiding their journals, waiting to see if they will be allowed to go to school? As if anyone has the right to decide what a woman can or cannot do with her own mind and body.”
Jolie, who walked the carpet with Gorman and Zahara, remarked there was “nothing more beautiful, more challenging and more unsettling perhaps than the free mind of the thinking woman. That is surely why so much effort is put into constraining her.”
Following a round of applause on that note, Jolie concluded by saying: “Those who have the power of free speech – the weapon of free speech – must combine to defend those who do not. We need voices like Amanda’s, those lights in the dark. May you burn fiercely, and light the way for others.”