Published Jul 27, 2017Angelina Jolie is the subject of the latest Vanity Fair cover story, and it's a long and illuminating piece. In addition to descriptions of Jolie's post-divorce home and her recent Bell's palsy diagnosis, however, the piece is producing some seriously bad PR for her upcoming film First They Killed My Father.
The film marks Jolie's fifth project as director and was based on Loung Ung's memoir of the same name. It details Ung's experience as a young child in Cambodia during the genocide following the Khmer Rouge's rise to power. Shooting the film in Cambodia, Jolie is now under fire for some of her practices.
In the audition phase of the film, Jolie apparently taunted Cambodian orphans with money, which she placed on a table and then took away to gauge their reactions. Here's the Vanity Fair passage that describes the tasteless hiring process:
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. "Srey Moch [the girl ultimately chosen for the part] was the only child that stared at the money for a very, very long time," Jolie says. "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."
As if that weren't bad enough, Jolie was also criticized for working with the Cambodian army to shoot the film. As the Vanity Fair piece points out, "Cambodia went all in — closing off Battambang for days, giving the filmmakers permits to land in remote zones, providing them with 500 officials from their actual army to play the Khmer Rouge army."
Speaking with The Cut, Human Rights Watch Asia Division executive director Brad Adams said that it's incredibly problematic to work with the Cambodian army, which he described as an "extremely abusive rights-violating force."
"To ask for permission to make a film and thereby invest in the local economy is fine, and you're going to have to have some meetings with some government officials," he said. "But you can take a stance to make sure you don't empower, legitimize or pay the wrong people. And working with the Cambodian army is a no-go zone, it's a red flag, and it's a terrible mistake. This is an army that is basically an occupying force of a dictatorship, it's used to put down environmental activists — the kind of thing that she stands for is in direct contrast to what this government is."
First They Killed My Father will have a Special Presentation at the Toronto International Film Festival in September before heading to Netflix.