Angelina Jolie’s team visited orphanages and slum schools in Cambodia to search for her upcoming film’s lead child star, but the actress faced backlash because they allegedly taunted the children with money during auditions – something she refuted and claimed to be a “pretend exercise.”
A story published by Vanity Fair revealed that the casting directors showed money to the children and asked them what they would probably do with it. The participants were then instructed to steal the money. Directors would then “catch them,” and they must come up with a reason why they did it. The scene’s purpose was to check how the participants would react. This was reportedly the directors’ way to check if the child is suitable for the role.
The scene was based on the real-life experience of Cambodian-American Loung Ang who survived the horrific Khmer Rouge killings that took away the lives of her parents and siblings. Srey Moch Sareum, who lives in the slums with her family, got the role because when the directors asked her to give the money back, her emotions naturally shone. Sareum told them that she needed the money to give her grandfather a “nice funeral.”
Some called the audition scene “monstrous” as it played with the disadvantaged children’s emotions.
However, in a recent statement to HuffPost, Jolie emphasized that no audition participant got hurt during the process. She claimed parents, medical specialists, and representatives of some non-profit organizations were present during the entire filmmaking process.
The United Nations special envoy for refugees said that what they did was a pretend exercise and that real money wasn’t involved.
“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.”
Cambodian producer Rithy Panh likewise detailed the audition process. He said casting directors informed the children ahead of the auditions that they would be asked to pretend to steal money or food and then get caught.
“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.”
Furthermore, Panh said that the children were not only accompanied by their guardians but were also given time to study or play on the set. A special team involving doctors and therapists was responsible as well for monitoring the child actors even at home to ensure that the memories of the genocide wouldn’t affect them.
The filmmaker, who survived the Cambodian genocide himself, said that the criticism was simply a result of a “misunderstanding.”
First They Killed My Father is a Netflix film set to be released this year.
[Featured Image by Heng Sinith/AP Images]