ENTERTAINMENT

Angelina Jolie Refutes Claims She Exploited Cambodian Children During Casting Process Of New Film 'First They Killed My Father'

'I am upset that a pretend exercise in an improvisation has been written about as if it was a real scenario.'

31/07/2017 08:14 BST

Angelina Jolie has vehemently refuted accusations she exploited vulnerable children during the casting process for her new film ‘First They Killed My Father’. 

The actress sparked a backlash last week when, in an interview with Vanity Fair, she revealed she had auditioned Cambodian children from “orphanages, circuses and slum schools” for the lead role of Loung Ung, by setting up an improvised situation where they were given money, before it was taken away to see how they’d react. 

The exercise was met with a wave of negative responses, with some people accusing her of exploitation, othering and emotional manipulation.

PA Wire/PA Images
Angelina Jolie

She has now insisted her explanation of the process had been taken out of context, claiming there were parents, guardians and non-governmental organisation partners, as well as medical doctors, present.

Angelina - a Special Envoy to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees - told the US edition of HuffPost in a statement: “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.”

She emphasised the process was pretend, adding the money that was used during the exercise was not real.  

“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,” she said.

“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.”  

She added: “The point of this film is to bring attention to the horrors children face in war, and to help fight to protect them.”

A source close to the audition process also insisted the children taking part were fully aware it was a “pretend game” and knew they were improvising a scene from the film.

The film’s producer, Rithy Panh, also issued a statement, claiming the Vanity Fair interview “grossly mischaracterised how child actors were selected for the film”.

“Angelina and I took the greatest care to ensure their welfare was protected,” he said.

“The children were not tricked or entrapped, as some have suggested. They understood very well that this was acting, and make believe.”

He continued: “Great care was taken with the children not only during auditions, but throughout the entirety of the film’s making... The children’s well-being was monitored by a special team each day, including at home, and contact continues to the present.” 

‘First They Killed My Father’ tells the story of the Khmer Rouge genocide, which occurred from 1975 until 1979, and killed two million Cambodians.

It is based upon the memoirs of author Loung Ung, who will be played in the film by Srey Moch, following her successful audition during Angelina’s casting process. 

She previously told Vanity Fair of her audition: “She 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. 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.”