With a start to life full of close encounters with alcoholic aggression, domestic violence and murder, Charlize Theron provides a shining example to all Africans today of the possibility to overcome hardship. Having gone on to forge a glittering Hollywood – and modelling – career, in 2003 Theron became the first South African ever to win an Academy Award in a main acting category. She is a consummate business professional, and alongside her acting work now owns her own film production company, Denver & Delilah. She boasts a personal net worth valued at $18 million (Forbes, 2012).
Born in Benoni, South Africa, Theron’s youth was saddled with difficulty due to her father’s struggle with severe alcoholism and aggression. She witnessed domestic violence and was often the victim of her father’s alcohol-influenced abuse. When she was just 15, Theron’s father returned home drunk and launched a gun attack on his wife and daughter. The attack ended in tragedy for all, with Theron’s mother being forced to shoot her attacker dead; later ruled to be a lawful act of defence.
Moving to the USA aged 18, Theron went on to carve out for herself a career in Hollywood, initially starring in film successes such as “Children of the Corn III” (1995), “2 Days in the Valley”, “The Devil’s Advocate” (1997), “Mighty Joe Young” (1998), and “The Cider House Rules” (1999). Theron developed a reputation for refusing certain roles based on her principles – an unusual trait in a young actress at the start of her career.
However it was with her lead role starring as serial killer Aileen Wuornos in “Monster” (2003) that Theron truly achieved success. Her performance was described as “one of the greatest performances in the history of the cinema” by renowned film critic Roger Ebert, and in February 2004 she was given the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Her talent and prowess pushed her to seventh in the Hollywood Reporter’s 2006 list of the highest paid Hollywood actresses, and she went on to earn $10 million for each of her following two films, the kind of financial rewards for her work that most young African actresses could only dream of.
She may be away from home now and an international star, but Theron has not lost touch with her roots. In 2007, she launched the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project (CTAOP), with the mission to “keep African youth safe from HIV/AIDS”. CTAOP identifies the multitude of pressures and problems faced by African youth today, such as “gender inequity, high crime rates, lack of cohesive family units, high incidence of rape and sexual misuse, misinformation or lack of information about HIV, chronic unemployment, lack of access to health services, and the stigma that surrounds the disease”. CTAOP works with community-based organisations on the ground, providing grants, networking, and other assistance to support the youth in overcoming these difficulties, and achieving success. In 2008, Theron was asked to be an UN Messenger of Peace, a culmination of her dedicated work to give back to the community she grew from.