Angelina Jolie is refuting an excerpt in her recent Vanity Fair tell-all that depicts a "disturbing" audition process for her upcoming Netflix Cambodian film, First They Killed My Father.
The Vanity Fair cover story explains an alleged "game" with impoverished children from "orphanages, circuses, and slum schools" set up by casting directors in order to find the lead for the film to play young Loung Ung. The excerpt 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."
Critics immediately spoke out about the casting strategy, some calling it emotionally abusive, sickening, monstrous and cruel.
Jolie, who directed the film, released a statement to ET on Monday, stating that the audition scene described in the article was "false and upsetting."
"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," she said. "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."
Reportedly based on Ung's real-life experience getting caught stealing, the pretend "game" was merely an improvisation exercise, with the By the Sea actress adding that real money was not taken from children.
"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," Jolie, 42, continued. "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," she concluded.
Rithy Panh, the producer on the film -- who himself is a survivor of the Khmer Rouge -- also released a statement to ET disputing the excerpt.
"I want to comment on recent reports about the casting process for Angelina Jolie's First They Killed My Father, which grossly mischaracterize how child actors were selected for the film, and I want to clear up the misunderstandings," Pahn stated. "Because so many children were involved in the production, Angelina and I took the greatest care to ensure their welfare was protected. Our goal was to respect the realities of war, while nurturing everyone who helped us to recreate it for the film."
"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."
"Ahead of the screen tests, the casting crew showed the children the camera and the sound recording material. It explained to them that they were going to be asked to act out a part: to pretend to steal petty cash or a piece of food left unattended and then get caught in the act. It relates to a real episode from the life of Loung Ung, and a scene in the movie, when she and her siblings were caught by the Khmer Rouge and accused of stealing."
"The purpose of the audition was to improvise with the children and explore how a child feels when caught doing something he or she is not supposed to be doing. We wanted to see how they would improvise when their character is found 'stealing' and how they would justify their action. The children were not tricked or entrapped, as some have suggested. They understood very well that this was acting, and make believe. What made Srey Moch, who was chosen for the lead role of Loung Ung, so special was that she said that she would want the money not for herself, but for her grandfather."
"Great care was taken with the children not only during auditions, but throughout the entirety of the film’s making. They were accompanied on set by their parents, other relatives or tutors. Time was set aside for them to study and play. The children’s well-being was monitored by a special team each day, including at home, and contact continues to the present. Because the memories of the genocide are so raw, and many Cambodians still have difficulty speaking about their experiences, a team of doctors and therapists worked with us on set every day so that anyone from the cast or crew who wanted to talk could do so."
"The children gave their all in their performances and have made all of us in the production, and, I believe, in Cambodia, very proud."
"Evgenia Peretz clearly describes what happened during the casting process as a 'game.' She also points out that there was a therapist on the set every day 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," Vanity Fair said in a statement to ET. "The actors in the film, which depicts the four-year reign of terror and genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, were a mix of trained actors, orphans and disadvantaged children."
Jolie talked about her deeply personal experience directing the film in the tell-all.
"There wasn’t a person who was working on the movie who didn’t have a personal connection," Jolie explained to Vanity Fair, adding that a therapist was on set daily to help those affected deal with flashbacks and nightmares. "They weren’t coming to do a job. They were walking in the exodus for the people whom they had lost in their family, and it was out of respect for them that they were going to re-create it."
For more on the humanitarian and filmmaker's relationship with her own children, watch the video below.