In July 2005 the cover of People magazine read, ‘‘Angelina Adopts a Baby
Girl!’’ The story was heartwarming. Jolie was adopting an orphan from
Ethiopia whose mother had died of aids. Someone identified as ‘‘a source’’
by People told readers how to understand the event as a particular form of
compassion and generosity. Jolie, said the source, ‘‘has a hunger about the
world and helping people. The whole world is important to Angie, but
she’s very attached to Africa as a continent. Africa is a country [sic] of
survivors. She identifies.’’∞
The child, subsequently named Zahara, was
welcomed by the press with photos of her at the mall, with her newfound
family, Brad Pitt tentatively figured as the father, and adopted sibling
Maddox, from Cambodia. Although transnational adoption was a half-
century old by 2005, and had involved significant numbers of parents and
children since the 1980s, Angelina Jolie and other celebrity adoptions in the
decade after 2000 marked for many the moment when it become undeni-
ably mainstream, no longer exotic.
However, the sweet and tidy narrative of Jolie saving orphans by adopt-
ing them—the early twenty-first century’s act of charity par excellence in an
era of shrinking government and expanding faith in individual virtue that
eschewed a previous generation’s confidence in development policy (per-
haps especially in a region like Africa, so obscure that it was hard for
celebrities or People’s editors to remember whether it was a continent or a
country)—proved unsustainable. Within months, the celebrity press had
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