Angelina Jolie walks with Loung Ung, a Cambodian-born American human-rights activist, author and lecturer, as they attend a press conference at a hotel in Siem Reap province, Cambodia, on Feb. 18.

Image: MAK REMISSA/EPA/REX/Shutterstock

Director Angelina Jolie has faced a round of criticism since a July 26 Vanity Fair story described an audition process that many felt exploited the children trying out for the lead role of her upcoming film, First They Killed My Father.

But Jolie says the story took the casting process out of context, turning a well-thought-out audition into a ploy that seemed cruel and unusual. 

The Vanity Fair story describes the process by which — according to the author — Jolie’s casting director tried to find the right child for the part. The kids they brought in weren’t professional actors, but children from “orphanages, circuses, and slum schools,” who had “experienced hardship.” 

The kids were trying out to play the part of the author of the memoir on which the film is based, a book of the same title. In the book, the author recounts the myriad horrors she experienced living under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia as the government committed genocide against its own people.

The story alleges that the kids were told to “snatch” money off a table, run, and then make up a lie about why they took it once they had been “caught.”

The story seems to suggest that the kids aren’t exactly clued in to what’s happening, and some readers understandably thought the crew was almost taunting these kids with money only to take it back. 

But Jolie and other members of the crew have been forceful in their pushback. The director said in a statement that they didn’t use real money, and that they used this casting process because it’s “an actual scene in the film.” The Huffington Post reported that the kids knew it wasn’t a real scenario, and the cast reportedly had the children’s parents and guardians on set, in addition to doctors and therapists. 

“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,” Jolie wrote in her statement.

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