Although she may be best known for her quirky film roles and sultry looks, Scarlett Johansson is much more than a pretty face. In an interview with Arianna Huffington for the December issue of Interview magazine, the actress opened up at length about her work in Africa with Oxfam, her thoughts on Occupy Wall Street and her new film, We Bought A Zoo.
In October, Johansson recorded a series of video blogs for The Huffington Post about her trip to Kenya, where she visited with those affected by the drought. In her blog, she wrote about the Dadaab refugee camp, which is the largest in the world. The camp has received between 600 and 1500 people daily for the past three years, despite being declared at full occupancy in 2008.
Johansson discussed those numbers with Huffington in more detail. “You read statistics all the time like, ’13 million people are at risk because of the severe drought in East Africa,’ but I think those kinds of numbers fall on deaf ears — there’s so much devastation in the world, that it’s a bit overwhelming for people. But by seeing a first-hand account of something like the effects of the drought in the Horn of Africa, you can have a different relationship with the story. It’s one of the blessings that come with new media.”
She continues, “I think that in something like a video blog, where you’re actually looking at mothers and children and in people’s faces, you can see that. You don’t even have to go that far. There are people in America who are absolutely desperate right now, who have no means to support their families, who have no opportunities to better themselves or their education—and they’re not that different from the farmers and working-class people that I visited when I went to Kenya with Oxfam. Whether they’re in America or in Africa, people want to work. They want to have purpose. They want to provide for themselves and their families.”
The actress also discussed her political endeavors with Huffington, explaining that she comes from a politically active family, and has continued this activism in her own life. She and her twin brother have both worked with Manhattan politician Scott Stringer, and although she says that she never discloses her voting choices, she was a vocal supporter of President Obama’s 2008 campaign.
However, she does admit to some disillusionment about the current administration, as well as some doubts about the effectiveness of the Occupy Wall Street movement. “You travel around to cities in the U.S. now and there’s just this hopelessness that has set in. It makes it hard to understand why it seems so impossible to make any kind of progressive change with an administration that is seemingly progressive, or why we keep encountering such political roadblocks to change…Are people who want this kind of progressive change not turning up at polling stations? Are they not voting for progressive representatives? It’s hard to put your finger on why we are where we are,” she says.
“I’m aware that this might come across as a bit tacky, but that story [Occupy] is not well organized. I’m not exactly sure what the message is behind it all. It is sort of unclear. I mean, yes, people are fed up—and I think quite rightfully so. But what are they proposing as an alternative to just being upset or feeling disillusioned or abandoned? That kind of protest movement really needs to happen on a much bigger scale, but there needs to be a clearer message. You know, if Occupy Wall Street was actually a march, and people from all around the country could collect and march toward Washington, D.C., as part of this massive movement of people . . . I think that kind of pressure is much more powerful than a sit-in that seems to be a little unorganized.”
In the interview, Johansson also talks about her upcoming film, We Bought a Zoo, about a man (played by Matt Damon) who purchases a home with a private zoo attached and decides to revitalize it. The film has already been criticized by PETA, who claims that the film sends the message that “no special knowledge – just a lot of heart – is needed to run a zoo.”
But Johansson doesn’t see it that way. “You know, I think this film is really about the hard work and dedication that goes into maintaining a zoo—that it’s not just some off-the-cuff thing that you do, which is sort of what Matt [Damon]’s character learns. It’s not just some fun adventure where you’re just sitting in a safari park…I learned prepping the film that there’s a dedication that these handlers and people who care for these animals have that just completely takes over their lives. It is so much work. But it was amazing to see the relationships they have with the animals, just this kind of silent communication that can exist between a human and a big cat like a lion or a tiger.”