Did Angelina Jolie take part in child abuse for a movie role? Read this and make up your own mind

Angelina Jolie
Kerry-anne Mendoza

An interview with Vanity Fair has resulted in outrage towards Hollywood star and United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) envoy Angelina Jolie. During the interview, Jolie tells how child actors were recruited from the slums of Cambodia for her latest movie, through a sickening reality game.

The interview

Jolie’s new film First They Killed My Father charts life under Cambodian dictator Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge, but through the eyes of a five-year-old girl called Loung Ung. It’s based on the acclaimed 2006 memoir by the real-life Loung Ung. On Wednesday 25 July, Vanity Fair published a cover story interview with Jolie which included a description of how she recruited child actors for the part:

To cast the children in the film, Jolie looked at orphanages, circuses, and slum schools, specifically seeking children who had experienced hardship. 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.

“Srey Moch [the girl ultimately chosen for the part] was the only child that stared at the money for a very, very long time,” Jolie says. “When she was forced to give it back, she became overwhelmed with emotion. All these different things came flooding back.” Jolie then tears up. “When she was asked later what the money was for, she said her grandfather had died, and they didn’t have enough money for a nice funeral.”

The reaction

The meting out of such a barbaric process upon poor and vulnerable children has sparked fury across the world.

Noted human rights advocate Bianca Jagger also expressed her shock and outrage:

For many people, playing such mind games with traumatised children constitutes a clear case of child abuse. Children living in abject destitution were taunted with money they could never hope to find anywhere else. A production team of Western millionaires waved it in front of their faces and then tore it away. And then they left.

Imagine for a moment the life of that child once the Hollywood circus moved on. Imagine the life they returned to; the feelings of shame, regret, and abandonment that might swirl through their minds. And most people would conclude that such cruelty is a form of child abuse. To those who feel otherwise, let us starve your own children to the point of desperation and play the game with them.

It gets worse

The following day, a fresh scandal broke. Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division accused the director of casting soldiers from the controversial Royal Cambodian Armed Forces. That is, an army responsible for grave killings and human rights violations akin to those portrayed in the film. HRW Executive Director Brad Adams told New York magazine‘s The Cut:

To ask for permission to make a film and thereby invest in the local economy is fine, and you’re going to have to have some meetings with some government officials… But you can take a stance to make sure you don’t empower, legitimize, or pay the wrong people. And working with the Cambodian army is a no-go zone, it’s a red flag, and it’s a terrible mistake.

Hollywood itself stayed notably mute on the issue. But that should come as no surprise. This is the community that rallied in support of director Roman Polanski when he fled the country rather than face jail for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. The 83-year-old has evaded justice for 40 years, while his career in Hollywood has continued unabated. But when justice came calling, more than 100 major Hollywood figures signed a petition to defend him. They included Martin Scorcese, Woody Allen, David Lynch, Wim Wenders, Pedro Almodóvar, Tilda Swinton and Monica Bellucci.


If Hollywood is untroubled by literal child rape, it’s unlikely to be moved by the playing of mind games with traumatised children. But that’s where you come in. Those outside the tainted walls of Hollywood must work all the harder to hold those inside to account. And we can do that with our time and our money. We can take time to share these stories and agitate for the safety of children. And we can refuse to give money to filmmakers who fail to uphold basic human values. The power rests with you.

Get Involved!

– Share this story and talk about it on social media.

– Boycott First They Killed My Father – and invite others to join you.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

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