Kubo and the Two Strings co-stars Matthew McConaughey and Char­l­ize Theron

Albuquerque Journal - Parade - - FRONT PAGE - By Ali­son Ash­ton Cover and open­ing pho­tog­ra­phy by Ari Michel­son

In their new movie, the lushly an­i­mated Kubo and the Two Strings, open­ing Aug. 19, Char­l­ize Theron and Matthew McConaughey play a cou­ple of an­i­mal char­ac­ters who hit close to home for them both.

Theron voices the pro­tec­tive, no-non­sense Mon­key, and McConaughey pro­vides his un­mis- tak­able Texas drawl to the sa­mu­rai known as Bee­tle. To­gether, Mon­key and Bee­tle men­tor a young boy, Kubo, through an ad­ven­ture as he learns who he re­ally is—and what he’s ca­pa­ble of do­ing.

Off­screen, both Os­car­win­ning ac­tors share a real-life pas­sion for men­tor­ing kids— and a high re­gard for teach­ers.

Teach­ing At-Risk Teens

McConaughey’s Just Keep Livin Foun­da­tion ( JKL), pro­vides an af­ter-school pro­gram fo­cus­ing on fit­ness, nu­tri­tion, grat­i­tude and com­mu­nity ser­vice for more than 2,400 in­ner-city high school stu­dents in three states and Wash­ing­ton, D.C. The Char­l­ize Theron Africa Out­reach Project (CTAOP) teaches teens in her na­tive South Africa how to pre­vent HIV in­fec­tion.

“Stu­dents who par­tic­i­pate in JKL’s pro­gram say it pro­vides a safe haven from street vi­o­lence and a respite from the iso­la­tion of sit­ting at home. It’s a place for kids who aren’t on a team to have a team,” McConaughey says. And it boasts im­pres­sive re­sults

in the class­room, with im­proved school at­ten­dance, grades and be­hav­ior—and an 88 per­cent grad­u­a­tion rate among JKL kids in schools where the typ­i­cal dropout rate is about 40 per­cent.

“Ev­ery­thing that Matthew is say­ing right now is ex­actly what African chil­dren tell me. The sto­ries are so sim­i­lar,” Theron says, not­ing that un­su­per­vised af­ter-school hours con­trib­ute to higher rates of HIV in­fec­tion among teens.

Grow­ing up in South Africa, she watched AIDS dec­i­mate her coun­try, which still has the high­est in­fec­tion rate in the world. And while im­pres­sive strides have been made to lower the in­fec­tion rate among adults, and the trans­mis­sion rate from moth­ers to new­borns has been vir­tu­ally elim­i­nated, young peo­ple—es­pe­cially women ages 14 to 28—re­main at risk, in Africa and else­where. “AIDS is the num­ber one killer of ado­les­cents in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa,” she says. “And AIDS is the num­ber two killer of ado­les­cents in all the rest of the world.”

It’s pre­ventable, of course, and she founded CTAOP in 2007 to help pro­vide what she saw as the miss­ing piece of the equa­tion: ed­u­ca­tion. “I re­al­ized that you could spend a great amount of money and time and ef­fort, but un­less peo­ple were re­ally tak­ing in in­for­ma­tion, it didn’t mat­ter,” she says. “It re­ally re­quired com­ing up with a com­pre­hen­sive way of teach­ing pre­ven­tion . . . and hav­ing the tools.”

Spot­light on Teach­ers

Both credit gifted teach­ers as the heart and soul of their re­spec­tive foun­da­tions’ work. Reach­ing in­ner-city kids here in the U.S. or their coun­ter­parts in South Africa takes fi­nesse, says Theron—even mix­ing a lit­tle Mon­key-like tough love with Bee­tle’s hu­mor. “If you have the ca­pa­bil­ity of bring­ing a few of those dy­nam­ics into a room, you’re a very pow­er­ful teacher,” she says.

Great teach­ers, like great per­form­ers, know how to play to their au­di­ence, she says. She of­fers the ex­am­ple of 70-yearold white South African satirist and so­cial ac­tivist Pi­eter-Dirk Uys, whom she re­cruited to teach a sex-ed class to a group of CTAOP stu­dents.

“He has a way to kind of tap in with ado­les­cents and, iron­i­cally, black ado­les­cents,” says Theron. He won over the skep­ti­cal crowd with some props that in­cluded a sex toy and a ba­nana. “They were com­pletely dis­armed and hear­ing ev­ery­thing from that mo­ment on.”

That kind of un­con­ven­tional ap­proach makes teach­ers ef­fec­tive and mem­o­rable, Theron says. “I think some­times [teach­ers] come in com­pletely sur­pris­ing pack­ages. The teach­ers that I re­ally con­nected with were so

odd. That’s a real tal­ent and a real skill. We don’t ap­pre­ci­ate teach­ing as we re­ally should.”

Lessons From Mom

McConaughey cred­its his mother, Kay, with in­spir­ing his de­sire to give back and even do some teach­ing him­self. (He’s work­ing on his sec­ond “Script to Screen” film­mak­ing class for stu­dents at his alma mater, the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin, this fall, which he’ll co-teach us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of

Clock­wise from top: Char­l­ize Theron vis­its with stu­dents and teach­ers at one of her Outreach Pro­jects in Africa; Matthew McConaughey with his mom, for­mer teacher Kay; South African satirist and social ac­tivist Pi­eter-Dirk Uys.

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