Angelina Jolie has responded to critics who claim that auditions for her upcoming film, First They Killed My Father, exploited underprivileged children who were hoping to land the lead role.
According to an article published online by Vanity Fair on Wednesday, July 26, the film’s casting directors played a game with the children that involved putting money on a table and asking the auditioning child to think of something they needed the money for before grabbing it. Once the child had taken the money, the director pretended to catch them, and they would then have to come up with a lie as to why they had stolen it.
The pretend game was actually inspired by a real-life experience of Loung Ung, who had been caught stealing by the Khmer Rouge, a communist guerrilla group responsible for the deaths of nearly two million Cambodians in the 1970s. Jolie’s film is based on Ung’s 2000 memoir, and children from orphanages, circuses and slum schools took part in auditions to play Ung and other roles in the movie.
The actress and director 42, was quoted in the article saying, “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 … 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.”
After the article was published, several people took to social media to criticize the casting exercise, with one calling it “monstrous.”
Jolie released a statement to The Huffington Post on Saturday, July 29, insisting that the incident had been taken out of context in the Vanity Fair article and she was upset over the outrage that it elicited.
“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,” the statement read.
“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 Oscar winner is a special envoy to the United Nations’ Refugee Agency. In 2005, she was awarded the Global Humanitarian Award by the UN and in 2013 was given the Jean Hershel Humanitarian Award at the Oscars for her work on behalf of those forcibly displaced and victims of sexual violence.
First They Killed My Father will be released on Netflix this year.
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