On Wednesday, July 26, Vanity Fair published a profile of Angelina Jolie that was, in part, intended to give an up-close look at her work on her latest film, First They Killed My Father. But a passage from Jolie's profile about the casting process for the film sparked criticism. Now, Jolie has responded to the Vanity Fair profile backlash in a statement released on Saturday, in which refuted claims that the film was exploitative.
Jolie's film is a Netflix original based on Loung Ung's memoir of the same title, which depicts her childhood under the violent Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. TheVF article noted that casting directors visited orphanages and impoverished schools, and set up a "game" for the children as part of the audition process. According to the Vanity Fair profile,
Srey Moch, the girl cast in the lead role, was selected through this process.
The description of the casting process was met with immediate backlash. Jolie and producer Rithy Panh issued statements to address the article and claimed the process was misunderstood. Both creators insisted that no children were tricked or mislead.
According to The Huffington Post, Jolie's statement reads,
Panh, who is an acclaimed Cambodian documentary filmmaker and a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, reiterated that the casting was done in a humane, sensitive manner.
The producer stated that families' preferences informed the casting, that non-governmental organization guidelines were followed, and that the children understood they were acting out a scene at all times. The filmmaker offered an extensive description of the process in his own separate statement. According to the Huffington Post, Panh's statement reads in part:
The casting method isn't the only controversy First They Killed My Father has faced. Human Rights Watch's Asia Division criticized Jolie for, according to Vanity Fair, including the actual Cambodian army in the film. The article reads, "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."
The Human Rights Watch feels that casting the forces in the film could empower or legitimize their position. Jolie did not address the Human Rights Watch's comments or anything about the reported use of the army in her statement on Saturday. Bustle reached out to Jolie and Netflix for comment on this topic, but did not receive a response at the time of publication..
Vanity Fair released a statement following Jolie and Panh's. The statement, was released on Sunday to ABC and asserted that the article, "clearly describes what happened during the casting process as a 'game' " and "that the filmmakers went to extraordinary lengths to be sensitive in addressing the psychological stresses on the cast and crew that were inevitable in making a movie about the genocide carried out in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge." Bustle reached out to Vanity Fair, but did not receive a response at the time of publication.
First They Killed My Father is set to be released on Netflix, though it does not yet have an official premiere date. It will first appear at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.