What Is The Angkar? Angelina Jolie's New Movie Tells The Story Of Cambodia's Tragic Past

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Angelina's newest film is perhaps her most powerful yet. First They Killed My Father tells the story of the Cambodian Civil War through the eyes of children, which makes sense since it's based on the book of the same name by Loung Ung, who lived through the carnage wrought by Pol Pot's regime in the early 1970s. The film is being lauded for its authenticity and historical accuracy, but one name that gets tossed around a lot in the movie without much explanation may leave casual viewers confused: The Angkar. So, who or what is Angkar in First They Killed My Father?

The Angkar was the name the Communist Party of Kampuchea (Cambodia) went by early on in their regime. This was the party led by Pol Pot that took power in 1975, and which thrust the war-torn country into a period of death and despair rarely seen before or since. However, it wasn't known publicly that the name "The Angkar" was actually a front until 1977, according to Al Jazeera. That was when Pol Pot declared in a speech that the Communist Party of Kampuchea was actually in charge of the country. Prior to that, not many people knew the political ideology of The Angkar — which means "the organization" in the Khmer language — they just knew that it was ruthless and something to be feared.

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The movie follows a family as they attempt to flee from the Angkar, whose followers/army were referred to as the Khmer Rouge. The movie is based on the recollections of Ung, who was just five years old when the Angkar took power. She was the daughter of a government official living in Phnom Penh (the capital) when the Khmer Rouge army conquered the city. From there, she and her family went on the run, traveling around the country and hiding their identities as they attempted to stay one step ahead of the Khmer Rouge, who killed over a million people as part of a genocidal effort between 1975 and 1979 that became known as the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields.

In order to paint this horrific picture of desperation with as much authenticity as possible, Jolie used only native Cambodian child actors who spoke the Khmer language. Some of the children auditioning were even orphans from impoverished areas. Jolie also cast soldiers from Cambodia's actual army to stand in for the Khmer Rouge. Both of those casting decisions made by Jolie have come under scrutiny, but it's clear she wanted the film to have an authentic feel. Her co-producer on the film, Rithy Panh, is himself a survivor of the Khmer Rouge years, and has made his career as a filmmaker documenting the time period. He has stood by the movie's production choices, according to the Huffington Post, saying that "the casting was done in the most sensitive way possible."

First They Killed My Father makes a serious attempt to show the devastation caused to the nation of Cambodia by the Angkar and its Khmer Rouge army, and it's important that the world never forget what happened there.