Angelina Jolie attacks ‘false and upsetting’ claims she exploited Cambodian orphans to make her new film

Angelina Jolie has defended herself from claims that she played psychological tricks on impoverished Cambodian children to see who could play the most convincing thief.

Jolie was criticised over a casting exercise she carried out for “First They Killed My Father”, an upcoming Netflix film about the Khmer Rouge and the Cambodian genocide of 1975-79.

Details of the process came out in an interview with Vanity Fair, which described it like this:

“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 told the magazine that the exercise led them to their leading actress, a girl called Srey Moch who was “overwhelmed with emotion” on giving back the money, which she had planned to spend on a funeral for her grandfather.

Jolie was criticised on social media for staging the audition, which many considered exploitative. Guardian columnist Marina Hyde said the anecdote was more proof Jolie is “clearly bats–t” and one of many “Hollywood crazies” who hijack poverty for their own ends.

A journalist for US radio network NPR accused her of playing “orphan Hunger Games”:

In response, Jolie said Vanity Fair had misrepresented the exercise, which did not use real money and was consensual.

In a statement to HuffPost she said:

“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.”

Her producer added that not all the children were impoverished orphans, that they had carers with them at all times. He said: “The children were not tricked or entrapped, as some have suggested. They understood very well that this was acting, and make believe.”

Business Insider has contacted Vanity Fair for comment.

Khmer Rouge victims
A man stands in front of photographs of prisoners of the Khmer Rouge regime in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Omar Havana/Getty

Jolie’s film is based on the memoirs of human rights activist Loung Ung, who fled her childhood home in Cambodia during a deadly four-year Communist regime, known as the Khmer Rouge years.

Between 1975 and 1979, the Khmer Rouge party leader Pol Pot and his followers drove people out of their homes and confiscated property in an attempt to redistribute the country’s wealth.

Historians estimate that 2 million people were killed.

The casting process has not been the only controversy to emerge from the film.

Jolie has also been criticised by Human Rights Watch for cooperating with the Cambodian army, who provided 500 soldiers to feature in its footage.