31 Jul – Just months prior to the official release of the Khmer Rouge film "First They Killed My Father", which is based on a non-fiction book of the same name by Loung Ung, director-producer Angelina Jolie has become the subject of a heated debate online and in the press.
It is none other than for the casting method supposedly used to choose the leading child actress Sareum Srey Moch, which Jolie has recently stepped up to deny, according to The Huffington Post.
Previously, a Vanity Fair profile revealed that "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."
Jolie revealed in her interview with the magazine that Srey Moch was chosen for the part as she stared at the money "for a very, very long time" and became overwhelmed with emotion when forced to give it back. Her reason for taking the money was because she needed it for a nice funeral for her grandfather who had died.
The casting process was undoubtedly deemed by many as unethical.
However, Jolie yesterday released a statement refuting the claims, saying that she was "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," she stated.
"Every measure was taken to ensure the safety, comfort and well-being of the children on the film starting from the auditions through production to the present. Parents, guardians, partner NGOs whose job it is to care for children, and medical doctors were always on hand everyday, to ensure everyone had all they needed. And above all 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."
Cambodia's acclaimed filmmaker Rithy Panh ("The Missing Picture"), who produced the Jolie-helmed film, also confirmed Jolie's statement by adding that no children were harmed in any ways during the audition and filming process as there were always caretakers available on set to tend to their needs.
He added that the aforementioned exercise was necessary as there was to be a scene in the film in which the Khmer Rouge soldiers accused the lead character and her siblings of stealing.
"The children were not tricked or entrapped, as some have suggested. They understood very well that this was acting, and make believe," he said.
Filmed entirely in Cambodia, "First They Killed My Father" will have its official release in September on Netflix, following its premiere in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Battambong earlier this year.
(Photo source: Tang Chhin Sothy | AFP | Getty Images)