MANY ACTORS SAY THEY ARE ACTIVISTS, BUT FEW WOULD PUT THEIR CAREERS ON THE LINE FOR A CAUSE. THANKFULLY, SHAILENE WOODLEY ISN’T MOST ACTORS. HERE, SHE TALKS GETTING ARRESTED, GIVING AWAY POSSESSIONS AND POPPING HER POLITICAL HYMEN (SUSAN SARANDON’S WORDS,
Last Shailene October, Woodley found herself at the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, America, protesting against the Dakota Access pipeline, a controversial piece of infrastructure built atop the Sioux tribe’s sacred ground.
This protest wasn’t simply about respecting Native American sovereignty, though that was certainly top of mind for the actressturned-activist, who is horrified by 200 years of oppressive treatment of indigenous people. This was also a sustainability issue that threatened 18 million people’s drinking water. Woodley, an outspoken critic of the crude oil pipeline and a frequent visitor to Standing Rock, was walking to her RV for lunch when she spotted two US military tanks. “I’m like, “This is some Divergent shit,”” she recalls, referencing the postapocalyptic trilogy she’s best known for. “The only time in my life that I saw a tank like that was on set in Atlanta.”
Minutes later, Woodley was arrested for criminal trespassing and engaging in a riot. Some 40,000 people watched on Facebook Live as her hands were zip-tied behind her back. At the Morton County jail, she reveals, “I was strip-searched. Like get naked, turn over, spread your butt cheeks, bend over. They were looking for drugs in my ass.” She recently joked with US comedian Stephen Colbert about her mugshot (“I wish I’d known this was going to be as public as it was. I would have made, like, a face.” But there was nothing funny about her arrest. “When you’re in a jail cell and they shut that door, you realise no one can save you. If there’s a fire and they decide not to open the door, you’ll die. You are a caged animal.”
Anyone can call themselves an activist these days (and many actors do), but with Woodley, 25, actions speak louder than words. She’s telling me this harrowing story over breakfast at one of her favourite organic LA spots, Sqirl (run by another badass woman concerned with sustainability, chef Jessica Koslow). Shai, as her friends call her, looks the part of the optimistic, millennial game-changer – hair California blonde (for a role), nose ring firmly in place. But what you notice most are her eyes. They’re kind but determined. Woodley’s ecofriendly lifestyle is well documented; this is the girl who makes her own toothpaste, and who once told an American women’s magazine that “cramp bark is the best thing for menstrual cramps”. In the final season of Girls, Hannah (Lena Dunham) extols the virtues of one of Woodley’s most talked about self-care routines: “Shailene Woodley likes to go to a private area, open her vagina, and let the sun in. And that’s how she gets her glow. So, when she goes to, like, the Insurgent premiere, that’s not make-up. That’s sun in her pussy.”
While I fumble with a way to artfully discuss that Girls moment, Woodley saves me from myself: “The vagina thing? For like, two weeks I had so many people sending it to me. I loved it so much. I thought it was amazing.” Which is to say, she has a sense of humour about herself. But not about what she believes in. “This world isn’t something to take for granted,” she explains. “The only way to address climate change and these radical, detrimental policies is for us, as citizens, to shift our lifestyles. People are too comfortable. We’re complacent in many ways. We need to be willing to get uncomfortable.” As Marie Claire launches its sustainability campaign, #Startsomewhere, here’s how our cover star does it…
Woodley has been concerned with sustainability and climate change since she was a teenager. “I was the weirdo girl in high school who tried to get everyone to recycle.” That doesn’t sound so weird, I say. “It was weird at the time,” she insists, reminding me how cruel kids can be, and how strong one needs to be to challenge the Establishment.
While her career exploded – a Golden Globe nomination for The Descendants (2011), a coveted role leading the resistance movement in Divergent (2014) – Woodley went minimalist,
eschewing the trappings of young Hollywood and even giving away most of her possessions. She stashed what little remained at friends’ houses around town – “Shai piles,” they called them. The girl didn’t have a home, let alone a mobile phone. Lionsgate, the studio behind the Divergent series, eventually had to force a phone on her just so they could track her down. Still, Woodley turned that phone off for three months this year due to the posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms she and her friends were experiencing post-Standing Rock. “There was so much trauma,” she explains. “Mine was like, “What do I do now?” Kind of like a little bit of depression.” This perhaps explains how Woodley was the last person in the world to find out Amal and George Clooney (who played her father in The Descendants) had welcomed twins. (When I mention the recent birth, she says: “They did? That’s amazing. I don’t know what’s going on.”)
Woodley’s passion for the environment evolved into something more vital, more actionable when she went to Hawaii (which she now calls her spiritual home) to film The Descendants.
She recalls watching an elder fight to save Mauna Kea, a dormant, skyscraping volcano on the Big Island where the US government planned to install an 18-storey high, $1.5 billion telescope on sacred ground. Two years of protests resulted in a voluntary halt of the project in 2015. “They stood on the mountain for months and held down the fort,” she explains. “And they ended up winning the battle.”
The struggle at Mauna Kea taught her the power of showing up, of what happens when the few become the many – a philosophy she put to good use in 2016 when she organised a caravan to the Democratic National Convention in support of Bernie Sanders. More than 1,000 people joined her in driving across the country. While Sanders may not have won the nomination, he inspired a revolution. These fiercely determined young people were all looking at Woodley and asking: Now what? So the actress and some friends started the organisation Up To Us, which provides infrastructure for community organising and helps make introductions between organisations. “There’s a misconception that, in order to start a movement, you need to have gone to college, or have a “name”, or look a certain way. But you don’t. We want to eradicate that narrative,” she says.
What can you do to make a difference? This is something Woodley thinks about daily. While this next step isn’t as sexy as attending a rally, she says, the biggest power you have is in your pocket. “Look at your wallet and recognise that every dollar you spend is either a vote towards the destruction of our planet or towards its empowerment.” She recommends downloading an app called Buycott, which lets you scan an item’s barcode with your phone to find out who the parent company is and whether their investments align with your beliefs, or HowToDivest.org, which tells you where your bank currently invests its money.
Start by looking at these issues from a macro level. Take, for instance, genetically modified food. “Eating organic is obviously healthy for the longevity of our bodies,” says Woodley. “But when we talk about GMOs, we have to address every aspect of what corporate dominion over our agriculture really means.” Watch documentary
GMO OMG, which looks at the issue with equal parts humour and edification, and take it from there. When visiting a restaurant for the first time, ask the chef what farm the meat comes from. For news on fracking, follow voices like Mark Ruffalo, and Josh Fox, who directed Gasland, the Sundance award-winning documentary. She also cites Food & Water Watch (@ foodandwater), which ‘goes into communities that often get
WHEN YOU’RE IN A JAIL CELL AND THEY SHUT THE DOOR, YOU REALISE NO ONE CAN SAVE YOU. IF THERE’S A FIRE AND THEY DECIDE NOT TO OPEN THE DOOR, YOU’LL DIE. YOU ARE A CAGED ANIMAL