Following a wave of controversy, Vanity Fair is standing by their Angelina Jolie cover story. The ongoing discrepancy seems to be over what exactly Jolie said during her interview with the magazine, as well as what exactly happened during the audition process for her new movie. Vanity Fair published a statement to their website on Thursday, explaining that they reviewed audiotapes of Jolie's interview with writer Evgenia Peretz, and after doing so, feel no correction is necessary. (Bustle has reached out to Jolie's manager for comment on Vanity Fair's latest report and their decision to stand by the original article, but did not receive an immediate response.)
This statement comes one week after the original article was published, sparking backlash for a specific excerpt that describes the casting process for Jolie's new film, First They Killed My Father. The movie is based on Loung Ung's 2000 memoir of the same name, a harrowing account of her childhood under the violent Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. According to the Vanity Fair profile, in order to find their lead character, a young Loung Ung, casting directors set up a "game" for children, according to the Vanity Fair article, at orphanages and impoverished schools. The passage reads:
"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 cast in the role, was selected through this process. The methods described immediately sparked outrage online, with many condemning them as exploitative. Jolie and producer Rithy Panh issued statements claiming the process was misinterpreted and that no children had been tricked or misled.
According to The Huffington Post, Jolie claimed measures were taken to ensure the "safety, comfort and well-being" of all of the children throughout the audition process and beyond. Additionally, she claimed their parents or guardians were on hand, as well as medical doctors, 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."
An excerpt of Jolie's statement reads:
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.
Panh, who is an acclaimed Cambodian documentary filmmaker and a survivor of the Cambodian genocide, claimed that the families' preferences informed the casting, non-governmental organization guidelines were followed, and that they took great care to ensure the children knew they were acting out a fictional scene throughout both the audition process and the entirety of filming. His statement to The Huffington Post reads, in part:
"The casting was done in the most sensitive way possible. The children were from different backgrounds. Some were underprivileged; others were not. Some were orphans. All of the children were tended to at all times by relatives or carers from the NGOs responsible for them. The production team followed the families’ preferences and the NGO organizations’ guidelines. Some of the auditions took place on the NGOs’ premises."
Panh claimed the children were shown the camera and sound-recording material ahead of auditioning and that they were told they would be acting out a part "to pretend to steal petty cash or a piece of food left unattended and then get caught in the act." He also claimed this correlates to a real experience from Ung's life and a scene in the movie.
Afterward, Vanity Fair released their own statement to ABC, claiming that Peretz "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."
None of the involved parties have addressed criticism for the film's reported inclusion of the actual Cambodian army, also reported in the Vanity Fair piece, and which Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division chastised for potentially empowering "an extremely abusive rights-violating force," as executive director Brad Adams told The Cut. (Bustle reached out to Jolie's manager — as well as Netflix, Vanity Fair, and Conde Naste — about this criticism, but did not receive an immediate response.)
In their post on Thursday, Vanity Fair alleges they were contacted by Jolie's lawyers saying that Peretz had “mistakenly” reported the incident and asked them to run a statement explaining that the children were fully aware they were acting out a part, and that they "apologize for any misunderstanding.” They also claim Jolie's lawyers asked them to remove the original paragraph from the story and run the correction prominently in the October edition of their magazine and website. (Bustle reached out to Jolie's manager about this claim, as well as the quote below, but did not receive an immediate response.)
Vanity Fair claims this alleged request prompted them to review audiotape from Peretz's interview with Jolie, which they claim the writer recorded on two devices.Vanity Fair claims a portion of the transcript reads:
"But it was very hard to find a little Loung. And so it was what they call a slum school. I don’t think that’s a very nice word for it, but a school for kids in very poor areas. And I think, I mean they didn’t know. We just went in and — you just go in and do some auditions with the kids. And it’s not really an audition with children. We had this game where it would be — and I wasn’t there and they didn’t know what they were really doing. They kind of said, 'Oh, a camera’s coming up and we want to play a game with you.' And the game for that character was 'We’re going to put some money on the table. Think of something that you need that money for.' Sometimes it was money, sometimes it was a cookie. [Laughter] 'And then take it.' And then we would catch them. 'We’re going to catch you, and we’d like you to try to lie that you didn’t have it.'”
Vanity Fair has decided to stand by the article as published. It's unclear what will happen from here, but it sounds like this situation won't be brushed under the rug anytime soon.