Real Leaders

Charlize Theron: From African Farm to Hollywood

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

Charlize Theron is a South African and American actress and film producer who has starred in several Hollywood films, such as The Devil’s Advocate, The Italian Job, Hancock and more recently, Mad Max: Fury Road. Theron was born in Benoni, in the then-Transvaal Province of South Africa, the only child of Gerda and Charles Theron.

The Second Boer War figure Danie Theron was her great-great-uncle. She is from an Afrikaner family, and her ancestry includes Dutch, as well as French and German; her French forebears were early Huguenot settlers in South Africa. She grew up on her parents’ farm in Benoni, near Johannesburg where her father, an alcoholic, physically attacked her mother and threatened both her and her mother while drunk; Theron’s mother then shot and killed him. The shooting was legally adjudged to have been self-defence and her mother faced no charges.

She and her mother moved to New York City where she attended the Joffrey Ballet School, where she trained as a ballet dancer until a knee injury closed this career path. As Theron recalled in 2008: “I went to New York for three days to model, and then I spent a winter in New York in a friend’s windowless basement apartment. I was broke, I was taking class at the Joffrey Ballet, and my knees gave out. I realized I couldn’t dance anymore, and I went into a major depression. My mom came over from South Africa and said, ‘Either you figure out what to do next or you come home, because you can sulk in South Africa’.”

At 19, Theron flew to Los Angeles, on a one-way ticket her mother bought her, intending to work in the film industry. During her early months there, she went to a Hollywood Boulevard bank to cash a check her mother had sent her to help with the rent. When the teller refused to cash it, Theron engaged in a shouting match with him. On seeing this, talent agent John Crosby, in line behind her, handed her his business card and subsequently introduced her to casting agents and also an acting school. Her Hollywood career was born.

The Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP) was created in 2007 by Theron in an effort to support African youth in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Their mission is to help keep African youth safe from HIV/AIDS.

In 2008, Theron was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace. In his citation, Ban Ki-Moon said of Theron “You have consistently dedicated yourself to improving the lives of women and children in South Africa, and to preventing and stopping violence against women and girls.”

She recorded a public service announcement in 2014 as part of a “Stop Rape Now” program. Theron is a supporter of same-sex marriage and attended a march and rally to support that in Fresno, California, in 2009. She has publicly stated that she refuses to get married until same sex marriage is legal in the United States.

Theron commented on the subject matter, saying: “I don’t want to get married because right now the institution of marriage feels very one-sided, and I want to live in a country where we all have equal rights.”


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