In an interview published last week in Vanity Fair, Angelina Jolie discussed the casting process behind her latest film, First They Killed My Father. Some of Jolie’s comments — specifically about the casting process of Cambodian children — sparked outrage. Now, Jolie has responded to the criticism, explaining that her words were “misconstrued” in the article.
In the initial interview, Jolie explained that she and her casting directors looked for Cambodian children who “had experienced hardship,” searching slum schools, orphanages, and circuses. To find their lead child actor, the casting directors reportedly played a game in which they put money on a table and asked each child to think of something they needed the money for, before “snatching it away,” adding, “The director would pretend to catch the child, and the child would have to come up with a lie.”
Discussing the game, Jolie reportedly became emotional:
“Srey Moch [the girl ultimately chosen for the part] 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. All these different things came flooding back.” Jolie then tears up. “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 nice funeral.”
Many readers and groups were (understandably) outraged, claiming that this was an extremely cruel thing to do to children facing struggle and hardship. Thankfully, Jolie has clarified her statement, explaining that her words were taken completely out of context. In a statement to Variety.com, Jolie said:
“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 [non-governmental organizations] 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.”
The film’s producer, Rithy Panh, also said that the post-Vanity Fair interview accusations “grossly mischaracterized” the casting process, and that he and Jolie “took the greatest care to ensure their welfare was protected.”
We’re glad that this has all been cleared up, because we can totally understand how Jolie’s initial comments (or at least how they were portrayed in the original Vanity Fair article) would not sit well with readers. It sounds as though the utmost care was taken with the children involved, and for this, we are grateful.
First They Killed My Father is a film about the genocide in Cambodia under the corrupt Khmer Rouge regime during the 1970s, and is set to be released later this year.