Angelina Jolie is a master of publicity.
Over the past few weeks, she’s nabbed headlines while on a global tour, for her new Marvel movie The Eternals, with her brood of kids.
Her teen daughters have appeared in upcycled outfits made from some of Jolie’s most famous red carpet gowns. In interviews, the mum-of-six has talked motherhood while deflecting questions about her friendship with musician The Weeknd.
Earlier this year, the family appeared in the pages of British Vogue, looking picture-perfect at the former Hollywood home of legendary filmmaker Cecil B. DeMille, which Jolie bought for $33 million in 2017.
But seeing the kids, all minors – Pax, 17; Zahara, 16; Shiloh, 15; and twins Vivienne and Knox, 13; son Maddox, 20, is at university in South Korea – in the spotlight is not sitting well with friends of her ex-husband Brad Pitt, with whom she remains in the midst of a bitter custody dispute.
“Angelina’s using the kids,” one source close to Pitt told the New YorkPost. “It’s hard to understand how this behaviour of parading them around is in their best interest. Brad never takes the kids out publicly – and he rarely talks about them.”
But a source who knows Jolie said: “The children are, not surprisingly given Brad and Angelina’s characters, very independent-minded. They don’t do things they don’t want to do.”
For Jolie, her new movie role of Thena, an Eternal warrior who seeks to protect humans from a monstrous race called the Deviants, is “one that relates to her life’s work,” according to those who know her.
“I’m not a perfect parent by any means,” she told People magazine this week: “Every day I feel like I’m more aware of everything I don’t do right. And I’m pretty tough on myself, because I feel often, ‘Am I doing the right thing? Did I say the right thing?’”
Jolie and Pitt have been at war for five years since their highly-publicised split in 2016, after just two years of marriage and a 12-year romance.
It’s largely as a result of their marriage that Jolie has turned her attention to working to support women and children who are survivors of domestic abuse in the US.
A legal filing, submitted in March, stated that the Maleficent star and her children are willing to offer “proof and authority in support” of domestic abuse by Pitt. The details have, so far, not been made public.
But as the source close to Pitt said: “Brad acknowledged that he didn’t handle the situation correctly. But he was investigated by children’s services and the federal authorities and there was no recommendation of him being charged, or not being allowed to see the children.
Asked if she feared for the safety of her children in the situation, she told The Guardian in September: “Yes, for my family. My whole family.”
Pitt was investigated in 2016 following a private jet flight during which, allegedly, an incident with oldest son Maddox prompted Jolie to file for divorce.
“And in the course of that investigation wouldn’t Angelina not have brought up broader abuse … If she was so worried about such a pattern of behaviour, how do you just let it go?”
To this, a source who knows Jolie noted that all the court documents and proceedings are sealed, adding that the actress has not otherwise spoken publicly of this.
While Jolie was on the promo trail, including a premiere in London, at home in California, her long-running legal battle with Pitt was still raging.
On Wednesday, the California Supreme Court refused to consider Pitt’s appeal of a court ruling that disqualified their private judge.
The court denied a review of a June appeals court decision that said that Judge John Ouderkirk – who earlier this year awarded Pitt and Jolie joint custody – should be disqualified for failing to sufficiently disclose his business relationships with Pitt’s lawyers.
The state Supreme Court’s decision finalises that ruling. It means the fight over the couple’s five minor children – which was nearing an end – is right back at the start.
The source close to Pitt said: “People who know Brad really feel for him. This doesn’t change the fact that all the expert witnesses and therapists were in favour of him having more time with the kids.”
A rep for Pitt told Page Six: “The appeals court ruling was based on a technical procedural issue and the Supreme Court’s decision not to review that procedural issue does not change the extraordinary amount of factual evidence which led the trial judge – and the many experts who testified – to reach their clear conclusion about what is in the children’s best interests.”
Meanwhile, “Ms. Jolie is focused on her family and pleased that her children’s wellbeing will not be guided by unethical behaviour,” Jolie’s lawyer, Robert Olson, said in a statement.
Jolie, who is often travelling as a UN envoy, spent the past year and a half at home in LA with her kids amid the pandemic.
“When she had to be at home and not travelling globally – something she’s never done before – the [domestic abuse] situation in the US became more apparent,” said the Jolie source. “Her personal experience in the court system has made her believe that the court system doesn’t take into account the holistic needs of children in these situations.”
In September, Jolie went to the White House to discuss reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act. That same month, she also met up with former elite gymnasts Kaylee Lorincz, Maggie Nichols, McKayla Maroney, Jessica Howard and Aly Raisman, who all said they suffered sexual abuse by USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
Sharing a photo of the athletes on Instagram, Jolie wrote: “I’m in awe of their courage and commitment to preventing future failures to investigate abuse.”
Now Jolie has also written a book with lawyer Geraldine Van Bueren QC and Amnesty International, called Know Your Rights, a guide for young people named after the Clash song whose title is also tattooed on Jolie’s back.
The Hollywood beauty is also at the centre of tabloid reports about her love life. Over the summer, she was spotted at her ex-husband Jonny Lee Miller’s Brooklyn apartment, clutching a bottle of wine and with nary a bodyguard in sight. They were seen having dinner together earlier this month in Beverly Hills.
This week, Jolie avoided answering a question about the nature of her relationship with The Weeknd while promoting her latest movie, Eternals. On E! on Monday, host Justin Sylvester asked Jolie if her kids are more excited about her Marvel film or her friendship with the Secrets singer.
“They’re very excited about this film, if that’s what you’re asking,” a smiling Jolie said.
Jolie and The Weeknd, 31 – real name Abel Tesfaye – have been spotted out on multiple dinner dates in Los Angeles in recent months, sparking rumours the pair are romantically involved.
“They’re clearly not trying to hide [the dinner date],” an insider told Page Six. “He’s definitely focused on getting into the movie business. He has the new HBO series he’s starring in.”
The Weeknd is set to co-write and star in the new HBO series The Idol. He may have learned something about courting the press from Jolie.
A producer who knows Jolie told the Post: “I think they’re both very serious people, very committed to their causes – I’m not sure whether this is romantic.”
Asked about Jolie’s love life, the source who knows Jolie said: “I think at the moment, motherhood and work is more important to Angelina. She’s a very present mum and she takes that role more seriously than anything else.
“She has teenagers and anyone who has teenagers knows that nothing is perfect!”
Jolie’s also preparing for her next project: directing a film about British war photographer Sir Don McCullin.
Despite the fact that the custody battle with Pitt could go on until most of the kids are preparing for college, Jolie told The Guardian: “I just want my family to heal. And I want everyone to move forward – all of us, including their dad … We’ll always be a family.”