Angelina Jolie is firing back after a recent interview with Vanity Fair, in which she chats about her upcoming Netflix film project “First They Killed My Father”, revealed details about casting children in the movie that many perceived to be cruel.
The mother-of-six received serious backlash after she explained her process for casting the feature, revealing she had auditioned Cambodian children to play the young lead, Loung Ung, by giving money to the children, then taking it away to see how they’d react.
“The casting directors set up a game, rather disturbing in its realism: they put money on the table and asked the child to think of something they needed the money for, and then to snatch it away,” the article reads. “The director would pretend to catch the child, and the child would have to come up with a lie.”
Srey Moch, was handpicked by Jolie for the role, and she said Moch was “the only child that stared at the money for a very, very long time.”
“When she was forced to give it back, she became overwhelmed with emotion,” Jolie continued. “All these different things came flooding back. When she was asked later what the money was for, she said her grandfather had died, and they didn’t have enough money for a funeral.”
Vanity Fair says the children were aware of this process, but that still didn’t sit well with Twitter as many people have expressed their outrage over Jolie’s casting ways.
“This is psychopathic. It would not be allowed to be done to Western children so why the adoring write up,” one Tweeter wrote.
In addition, Jolie also recounts how the filming “traumatized” unsuspecting onlookers who were shocked to witness the return of the brutal Khmer Rouge (a Communist regime, led by Pol Pot, responsible for one of the worst mass killings in the 20th century).
The article read: “And then there were the odd bystanders who hadn’t been aware that a movie was being made, and were traumatized.” Jolie added, telling the mag: “When the Khmer Rouge came over the bridge, we had a few people who really dropped to their knees and wailed. They were horrified to see them come back.”
On Saturday, Jolie released a statement about the controversial casting methods, insisting the children knew they were involved in a make-believe “game” and that parents, guardians and medical doctors were present throughout the process, emphasizing that none of the children were hurt or traumatized by the experience.
“Every measure was taken to ensure the safety, comfort and well-being of the children on the film starting from the auditions through production to the present,” Jolie told HuffPost in a statement, explaining that the “game” described in the Vanity Fair profile was an improvisation exercise.
“I am upset that a pretend exercise in an improvisation, from an actual scene in the film, has been written about as if it was a real scenario,” said Jolie. “The suggestion that real money was taken from a child during an audition is false and upsetting. I would be outraged myself if this had happened.”
The film’s producer Rithy Panh released the following statement on the auditions:
“I want to comment on recent reports about the casting process for Angelina Jolie’s ‘First They Killed My Father’, which grossly mischaracterize how child actors were selected for the film, and I want to clear up the misunderstandings. Because so many children were involved in the production, Angelina and I took the greatest care to ensure their welfare was protected. Our goal was to respect the realities of war, while nurturing everyone who helped us to recreate it for the film.”
Giving more explanation on the casting process, Panh said: “The casting was done in the most sensitive way possible. The children were from different backgrounds. Some were underprivileged; others were not. Some were orphans. All of the children were tended to at all times by relatives or carers from the NGOs responsible for them. The production team followed the families’ preferences and the NGO organizations’ guidelines. Some of the auditions took place on the NGOs’ premises.”
“Ahead of the screen tests, the casting crew showed the children the camera and the sound recording material. It explained to them that they were going to be asked to act out a part: to pretend to steal petty cash or a piece of food left unattended and then get caught in the act. It relates to a real episode from the life of Loung Ung, and a scene in the movie, when she and her siblings were caught by the Khmer Rouge and accused of stealing.”
Panh added that the children knew clearly that it was pretend and they were being asked to act out the scene: “The purpose of the audition was to improvise with the children and explore how a child feels when caught doing something he or she is not supposed to be doing. We wanted to see how they would improvise when their character is found ‘stealing’ and how they would justify their action. The children were not tricked or entrapped, as some have suggested. They understood very well that this was acting, and make believe. What made Srey Moch, who was chosen for the lead role of Loung Ung, so special was that she said that she would want the money not for herself, but for her grandfather.”
The producer clarified that he and Jolie made sure the children had supports on site to ensure their well-being. “Great care was taken with the children not only during auditions, but throughout the entirety of the film’s making. They were accompanied on set by their parents, other relatives or tutors. Time was set aside for them to study and play. The children’s well-being was monitored by a special team each day, including at home, and contact continues to the present. Because the memories of the genocide are so raw, and many Cambodians still have difficulty speaking about their experiences, a team of doctors and therapists worked with us on set every day so that anyone from the cast or crew who wanted to talk could do so.”
Panh concluded that the “children gave their all in their performances and have made all of us in the production, and, I believe, in Cambodia, very proud.”