Thursday is World Bee Day, and Angelina Jolie isn’t about to let you forget it. The Academy Award winner tapped National Geographic to promote her new initiative with UNESCO and the storied French cosmetics brand Guerlain, which aims to raise awareness about just how vital bees and pollination are to everyday life on planet Earth. (The latter includes a program to train women as beekeeper entrepreneurs, using techniques from a range of countries including China, where beekeepers seal logs with cow dung to protect the insects during winter.)
Altogether, bees pollinate three out of every four leading food crops for human consumption, making for $200 billion worth of food and a third of agricultural land worldwide. And while there are still 20,000 bee species around the world, climate change, habitat loss, pesticides, and parasites have posed a growing threat for well over a decade, causing mass die-offs and a phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder.
“We're all smart enough to know that these pieces are very, very interconnected and very crucial,” Jolie said. “I know it seems like I'm now working on bees, but really, to me, the bee and the pollination and the respect for the environment, it's all interconnected to women’s livelihoods, [and to] displacement from climate change.”
In the name of the cause, Jolie also boldly covered herself in loudly buzzing bees, standing perfectly still for what amounted to 18 minutes. (Inspiration came courtesy of Richard Avedon’s 1981 portrait of a shirtless Californian beekeeper.) “Everyone on set, except Angelina, had to be in a protective suit,” photographer Dan Winters said. “The set had to be quiet and fairly dark to keep the bees calm.” Jolie fondly remembers the experience. “It just felt lovely to be connected to these beautiful creatures,” she said. “There's certainly a hum.”
The photoshoot took some prep. “We couldn't shower for three days before. They told me, ‘If you have all these different scents, shampoos and perfumes and things, the bee doesn't know what you are,’” she said. “It was so funny to be in hair and makeup and wiping yourself with pheromone.” It worked, though one bee did end up under her dress the entire time. “It was like one of those old comedies. I kept feeling it on my knee, on my leg, and then I thought, ‘Oh, this is the worst place to get stung. It's getting really close.’”
At this point, Jolie has found that she even relates to bees, of which there are two types: domestic and honeybee, which make the honey, and wild and solitary, which pollinate. “This is to all you women,” Jolie said. “Take a choice.” Hers, lately, is domestic— “but in my heart, I'm wild solitary.” She’s been spending much of her time at home with her six kids with Brad Pitt, whom she recently divorced—a “change in [her] family situation” that’s taken her time away from the industry. And while she’s been getting back to acting, right now, bees are top on Jolie’s list of priorities. She heads to Provence next month for some of her own beekeeper training, alongside the first participants in her Guerlain x UNESCO initiative, and is on the hunt for some of her own hives.