Angelina Jolie is not happy with Vanity Fair’s depiction of how children were treated in Cambodia during auditions for her upcoming film adaptation First They Killed My Father. USA TODAY
After Angelina Jolie said she was “upset” about the controversy caused by an audition practice she says was incorrectly depicted in a recent Vanity Fair cover story about her, V.F. is standing by its story.
Instead of running a correction to the Sept. cover story, as Jolie’s lawyer asked for, the magazine has defended their reporting with an interview transcript.
“To cast the children in the film, Jolie looked at orphanages, circuses and slum schools, specifically seeking children who had experienced hardship. In order to find their lead, to play young Loung Ung, 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 she needed the money for, and then to snatch it away. The director would pretend to catch the child, and the child would have to come up with a lie.”
V.F., in a statement published Thursday, said that Jolie’s lawyer asked the publication to run a statement saying contributor Evgenia Peretz ‘mistakenly’ reported that child actors were unaware that they weren’t dealing with real money being taken away.
“All of the children auditioning were made aware of the fictional aspect of the exercise and were tended to at all times by relatives or guardians from NGOs. . . . We apologize for any misunderstanding,” Jolie’s lawyer said.
V.F. says that instead of running a correction as asked, they reviewed Peretz’s interview tape and are standing by their story as published. The magazine shared a transcript of the relevant part of their interview online.
Here’s the part of the conversation where Jolie talks about the audition process:
“But it was very hard to find a little Loung (the star of the movie). And so it was what they call a slum school. I don’t think that’s a very nice word for it, but a school for kids in very poor areas.
“And I think, I mean they didn’t know. We just went in and—you just go in and do some auditions with the kids. And it’s not really an audition with children. We had this game where it would be—and I wasn’t there and they didn’t know what they were really doing. They kind of said, ‘Oh, a camera’s coming up and we want to play a game with you.” And the game for that character was ‘We’re going to put some money on the table. Think of something that you need that money for.’ Sometimes it was money, sometimes it was a cookie. [Laughter] ‘And then take it.’ And then we would catch them. ‘We’re going to catch you, and we’d like you to try to lie that you didn’t have it.’ “
In a statement shared with USA TODAY on Sunday by Netflix representative Cynthia Arntzen, Jolie had defended what she called a “pretend exercise in an improvisation” that she used with the Cambodian child actors for her Netflix film.
Though Jolie didn’t deny that a “game” was played, she gave it different context than was in the piece.
“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 said in a statement. “Parents, guardians, partner NGOs whose job it is to care for children, and medical doctors were always on hand everyday, to ensure everyone had all they needed.”
Here’s Jolie’s statement in full:
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. Parents, guardians, partner NGOs whose job it is to care for children, and medical doctors were always on hand everyday, to ensure everyone had all they needed. And above all to make sure that no one was in any way hurt by participating in the recreation of such a painful part of their country’s history.
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. 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 point of this film is to bring attention to the horrors children face in war, and to help fight to protect them.
One of Jolie’s producers on the project, Khmer Rouge survivor Rithy Panh, also spoke out about the First They Killed My Father casting process, saying reports “grossly mischaracterize how child actors were selected for the film (and don’t make it clear that) casting was done in the most sensitive way possible.”
Panh’s statement continued: “We wanted to see how (child actors) 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.”
Here is Panh’s statement in full:
“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.
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.
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.
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.
The children gave their all in their performances and have made all of us in the production, and, I believe, in Cambodia, very proud.”