Angelina Jolie Orphanage Casting Call Draws Criticism

“What a cruel psychological game to play with impoverished children,” one observer tweets

Angelina Jolie shoot like a girl
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Angelina Jolie’s new Vanity Fair cover story is getting a lot of attention — but some of it is negative.

Several people have expressed anger over details that were reported in the interview feature, specifically over how children were cast for Jolie’s new Netflix film, “First They Killed My Father,” while other details about the making of the film have human rights activists concerned.

The magazine piece reports that Jolie and her casting director “looked at orphanages, circuses, and slum schools, specifically seeking children who had experienced hardship.”

Casting directors are described as having “set up a game, rather disturbing in its realism” in order to find the movie’s young lead. “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 is quoted by Vanity Fair: “‘Srey Moch [the girl ultimately chosen for the part] was the only child that stared at the money for a very, very long time. When she was forced to give it back, she became overwhelmed with emotion. All these different things came flooding back.” Jolie then tears up, according to the piece. “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.”

While this method was meant to get raw emotion from the children, many people are finding this “game” mean-spirited. A conversation sparked when @MrFilmkritik tweeted out a screenshot of the above paragraph, saying “Angelina Jolie is crazy. What a cruel psychological game to play with impoverished children.”

A flood of responses, both agreeing with @MrFilmkritik and defending Jolie, came in. An example of one exchange: “It’s no different than remembering a trauma in your life then use it to act it out during a scene in a movie,” tweeted @Anthonytra15. “The difference is that they’re children being forced to relive their trauma. They’re not deciding to use it they were manipulated,” @katya_biv_o countered.

“Stop abusing brown bodies for white entertainment. This is absolutely repulsive of her,” another Twitter user said.

The VF feature goes into some detail about the making of the film, which Jolie directed and was shot completely in Cambodia.

“Cambodia went all in — closing off Battambang for days, giving the filmmakers permits to land in remote zones, providing them with 500 officials from their actual army to play the Khmer Rouge army,” the the VF article states.

Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, told NY Mag’s The Cut that using officials from the Cambodian army is alarming. “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,” Adams told the outlet. “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.”

“This is an army that is basically an occupying force of a dictatorship, it’s used to put down environmental activists — the kind of thing that she stands for is in direct contrast to what this government is,” he continued.

Jolie is outspoken about her love for Cambodia, and heralds the country as a place that changed her life. “This film is my way of saying thank you to Cambodia,” she said at the Cambodian premiere of the film in February. “Without Cambodia I may never have become a mother. Part of my heart is and will always be in this country. And part of this country is always with me: Maddox.” (Maddox is her 15-year-old son, who she adopted in 2002. He was born in Cambodia.)

But Adams told The Cut, “There’s moral hazard in having any relationship or dealings with the Cambodian government. It’s not clear whether she understands that and it’s not clear whether she cares about it.”

The film is based on a memoir of the same name by Loung Ung, and chronicles the death of her parents and two siblings — along with two million other Cambodians — in the Khmer Rouge Cambodian genocide.

Netflix did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.