Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Charlize Theron: Growing up in Apartheid Africa and Her Advocacies as UN Messenger of Peace

Charlize Theron was born in Benoni, in the Transvaal Province of South Africa, on August 7, 1975. In 2007, she became an American citizen while retaining her South African citizenship. She is an A-list actress who won numerous awards, including a Golden Globe Award, an Academy Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

Theron, an only child, grew up on her parent’s farm in Benoni, near Johannesburg in South Africa, during the apartheid era. Her parents were road construction business owners, Gerda, and Charles Theron. She comes from an Afrikaner family with Dutch, French, and German ancestors.

She has been forthright in discussing her family tragedy as a young child. Her drunken father threatened her and her mother in 1991, physically assaulting her mother and firing a gun at the two of them.

She shared in an interview with Terry Gross of Fresh Air: “Both of us were leaning against the door from the inside to have him not be able to push through. And he took a step back and just shot through the door three times. And neither one of those – none of those bullets ever hit us, which is just a miracle. But in self-defense, she ended the threat.”

Theron’s mother found her handgun, shot Theron’s father, and killed him. Her mother did not face charges because the law ruled the shooting to have been in self-defense.

“I just remember my mom saying, you have to run to the neighbors. You have to run to the neighbors. And I was in my pajamas. I was barefoot. And I just remember I just ran in complete darkness. And I could hear my breath. I just remember my breath felt so amplified in my ears as my feet were hitting the dirt road as I was trying to get to the neighbor’s house,” she vividly recalls.

Theron confirmed in 2018 that she sought therapy for anger in her thirties and learned that it resulted from her frustration with growing up in apartheid-era South Africa.

She said in the same interview: “I didn’t really, truly understand, I think, what any of this really did to me as a young child until I was in my mid-30s, and I went to therapy for the first time because of a relationship that was failing. And what I discovered while in therapy trying to save my relationship was that I had a lot of traumas from being a young child growing up in South Africa during the apartheid era.”

She continued to discuss her self-conflicting experience as a white person: “It’s a lot to reconcile with when you realize that you benefited under an administration, a nation, a country because you had the right skin color. I benefited. My life was more comfortable because of the suffering of a lot of people who just, by chance, were born with the wrong skin color. And that is a lot – that was a lot for me to carry. It still is. It is – I think it’s something that I’ll carry for the rest of my life.”

After being selected for a modeling contract at 16, Theron relocated to Italy in 1991. Later, she relocated to New York, where she attended the Joffrey Ballet School and worked as a model before heading to Los Angeles in 1994 to launch her acting career. 

She has starred in commercially successful films such as The Italian Job (2003), Hancock (2008), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012), Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), Atomic Blonde (2017), and The Old Guard (2020).

Theron played serial killer Aileen Wuornos in the 2003 film, Monster. Aileen Wuornos was a prostitute who was executed in 2002 for the murders of six men. Theron received the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance at the 76th Academy Awards in February 2004, the Golden Globe Award, and the Screen Actors Guild Award. She is the first South African woman to win an Academy Award for Best Actress. In 2006, she ranked seventh in The Hollywood Reporter’s list of highest-paid actresses in Hollywood.

Theron has been involved in film production since the early 2000s through her company Denver and Delilah Productions. She has produced several films, many of which she starred in, such as The Burning Plain (2008), Dark Places (2015), and Long Shot (2016).

To support young Africans in the fight against HIV/AIDS, Theron created The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP) in 2007. The project is dedicated to assisting community-engaged organizations that address the disease’s primary causes. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appointed her as a UN Messenger of Peace in 2008.

As of early 2020, Theron had received 100 nominations and 39 wins for her film work.

She was named the most desirable woman in 2003 by AskMen. In 2005, she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She made it to Time’s 100 list of the most influential people in the world in 2016.