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EXCLUSIVE: Charlize Theron on Her Charity’s Partnership With Dior, Sequel to ‘Atomic Blonde’ and More

"I’m not going to lie, it’s tough to stay positive right now," shared the South African actress, producer and face of Dior's J'adore fragrance of life amid the pandemic. "But the second we lose hope, we lose the fight."

Dior has launched a campaign to promote the education and empowerment of women and youth, in partnership with the Charlize Theron Africa Outreach Project, or CTAOP. The South African actress, producer, Dior muse — and face of its J’adore fragrance — founded the charity in 2007 to support organizations that work to help the younger generations, many of them women, of sub-Saharan Africa.

Today, Parfums Christian Dior reveals the financial support of one of CTAOP’s initiatives, aiding the organization’s upcoming 2021 cohort from its youth leaders scholarship program. The project, launched in 2018 with the UCLA Center for World Health, provides university students four years of tuition fees, lodging, books, travel costs, a laptop and mentorship.

“What we dream of is to have a generation of young leaders cultivated through the young leaders scholarship program…,” CTAOP’s executive director Ashlee George told WWD. George began working as Theron’s personal assistant before overseeing the charity in 2009. “What would be incredible and what we’re trying to build is…a network of alumni through this program…[a] cycle [where] they go through this program, gain skills, continue to build the ability to make the change they want to see and then bring that back to their community and execute.”

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Dior has simultaneously unveiled a series of promotional videos — titled #Diorstandswithwomen — featuring interviews with “passionate and committed” women who “make an impact on the world,” according to the house.

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The group includes Theron, as well as English model, actress and face of Dior beauty Cara Delevingne; Chinese actress Li Bingbing; Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani; Mexican actress Yalitza Aparicio; New Zealand dancer and choreographer Parris Goebel; American plus-size model Paloma Elsesser; actress, American model, dancer and transgender activist Leyna Bloom; Congolese photographer Pamela Tulizo; French flower producer for Dior Carole Biancalana, and Italian professor Marina Cavazzana, a pioneer in gene therapy.

To mark the news, in an exclusive interview with WWD, Theron discusses CTAOP’s history, her evolving partnership with Dior, the latest on her upcoming TV and film projects — including the “Atomic Blonde” sequel — and her thoughts on COVID-19’s impact on Hollywood.

WWD: What made you want to start CTAOP back in 2007 and how has its mission evolved?

Charlize Theron: I grew up in South Africa during a time when the HIV and AIDS crisis was taking over my country, and I was watching people in my community die on a daily basis. It really shook me to my core, so when I got to a place where I could give back in a significant way, I knew I wanted to do something to help in the fight against HIV and AIDS and also invest in the health and empowerment of the next generation. Over the years, we have grown and partnered with grassroots programs that educate, empower and invest in young people in order to keep themselves and their communities safe, and also for these youth to be able to shape the futures they want for themselves and the world. Today we have 13 program partners across three countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and [the] youth leaders scholarship program just selected our third cohort of young students who will start university in 2021.

WWD: What can you share about Christian Dior Parfums’ support of CTAOP and how it will impact CTAOP’s goals?

C.T.: Christian Dior Parfums has been supporting my foundation’s work for years. When the #Diorstandswithwomen project took shape, its values aligned with CTAOP’s mission. The stories of these women who want to use their incredible talents to enhance our world and want to pass on their experience and their passion onto others is exactly what we are trying to do with CTAOP and more specifically with the new, youth leaders scholarship program. This educational program is aimed at helping the budding leaders of tomorrow, who are more often than not young girls. By covering full study costs for the entire 2021 year cohort, Dior Perfumes is walking this journey with CTAOP to invest in a better future. Together, we will be able to help these exceptional young people spread their wings, and I can’t wait to see what they do. It is a source of immense pride and great hope for the future that we share, together.

WWD: What has made you want to continue your partnership with Dior, as a face of the house and a collaborator?

C.T.: Being the face of such an iconic perfume as J’adore for more than 15 years has been such an honor, and Dior has been such a collaborative and supportive partner. It’s been an ideal match, since so much of what Dior stands for and behind really resonates for me. In particular, the celebration of women and the incredible talent, passion and altruism of women. The empowerment inherent in #Diorstandswithwomen and #Diorchinup [as the project is also known] are the values that I, and all of us at CTAOP, also believe strongly in. And J’adore has also always embodied these same values in a natural way. I’m so proud to have collaborated on so many incredible campaigns and looking forward to continuing this beautiful tradition.

WWD: Women and youth empowerment are among the commitments of this project with Dior. What are the biggest challenges you’ve experienced when it comes to backing and providing aid for these causes? 

C.T.: One of the biggest challenges is that women and youth both still face so much inequity and discrimination, and so, [they] are particularly vulnerable. When we started CTAOP, for example, we saw that so many of the areas we were working in weren’t providing young people with accurate or comprehensive sexual and reproductive health information. They also had limited access to health services, compared to adult members of their community. Globally, we need to do a better job at inclusivity, that goes for more than just access to health services, and knowledge. We need to make more room at the table to hear the voices of young people, particularly young women and to make sure we are helping to provide them the tools and skills they are telling us they need and want.

Charlize Theron
Charlize Theron Courtesy of Parfums Christian Dior

WWD: Ashlee George said you’ve always had a vision for helping and investing in others. How can we all work to come together for social causes, stay optimistic for ourselves and future generations, particularly given the state of the world today, with COVID-19, the impacts of climate change, seemingly rising political tensions? How have you stayed positive yourself? 

C.T.: I’m not going to lie, it’s tough to stay positive right now. But the second we lose hope, we lose the fight. It does no one any good to give up and give in. What has kept me optimistic during this time is seeing how fired up and committed the younger generation is right now. Seeing their response to things like climate change or political causes is actually making me excited for the future for once. Say what you want about young people, but I truly have a feeling we have an incredible generation of voters, activists and changemakers rising up right now. And because of that, it makes me ever more committed to support causes that invest in young people, and I encourage everyone who’s feeling down about the future to do the same.

WWD: What are some of your current and upcoming projects in the works as a producer and actress — what excites you?

C.T.: Well, we’ve had a lot of time during this pandemic to line up some projects and bulk up our development slate, so there’s actually quite a few things I’m itching to get going post-COVID-19. At my production company, we have the “Atomic Blonde” sequel in development, which I am incredibly excited for, along with a few other film projects. On the TV side, we have an awesome mix of projects coming down the pipeline. [I] can’t really talk about anything quite yet, but just know we’ve got everything from drama, comedy, sequels, reality. 2021 is hopefully going to be a fantastic year for us, if we can get our s–t together with COVID-19.

WWD: How has it been seeing COVID-19’s impact on Hollywood and how do you see it affecting the industry of filmmaking moving forward? 

C.T.: It’s been heartbreaking seeing the amount of jobs and livelihoods lost during this pandemic, and I am really hoping that we can rebuild from this quickly and get all of these people back to work. Obviously things are going to change and have changed, going back into production. I think one good thing that will come from this is making people a bit more conscientious about health and safety on film sets. And in terms of the industry as a whole, you know, obviously the past few months everyone has been streaming things at home exclusively, and yes people will continue to stream content in huge amounts post-COVID-19. I mean, I love watching movies from my bed, don’t get me wrong. But I really don’t think traditional moviegoing or theaters are dead. I think a lot of people really crave community experiences right now, and I think when it can be done in a safe way, people will return to those communal entertainment spaces again. We’ll just have to figure out the best way from streaming and theaters to coexist in a healthy way, which a lot of companies are working toward anyway.