WHY WE LOVE TEACHERS
Kubo and the Two Strings co-stars Matthew McConaughey and Charlize Theron
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.