Vanity Fair published their September cover story with Angelina Jolie more than a week ago. The early coverage of her interview mostly focused on the personal aspects, her discussion of the divorce, the kids, her simmering rage towards Brad Pitt. The point of the VF story was for Jolie to promote her Netflix film, First They Killed My Father, and Vanity Fair did include a lot of details about filming in Cambodia and how they cast the child actors. The description detailed by Vanity Fair of the audition process came across as exploitative. Jolie-defenders pointed out that VF didn’t use quotes from Angelina and the magazine had perhaps gotten some of the details wrong. People on the other side insisted that the auditioning process was absolutely exploitative and emotionally abusive to impoverished children. There was no middle ground.
Jolie ended up issuing a statement about the part of the article that made her seem exploitative. She argued that “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,” and that the audition set-up they used for the kids was a “pretend exercise in an improvisation, from an actual scene in the film.” Well, Vanity Fair has now issued a statement, and they’ve published the actual transcript from Evgenia Peretz’s recorded interview with Jolie. There are parts of Angelina’s interview that make the auditioning process seem worse than Vanity Fair presented it.
On August 1, Jolie’s lawyer contacted V.F., saying Peretz had “mistakenly” reported the incident, and asked us to run a statement, excerpts of which follow: “The casting crew showed the children the camera and sound recording material, explaining to them that they were going to be asked to act out a part. . . . The children were not tricked as some have suggested. . . . All of the children auditioning were made aware of the fictional aspect of the exercise and were tended to at all times by relatives or guardians from NGOs. . . . We apologize for any misunderstanding.”
Jolie’s lawyer also asked us to remove the original paragraph from the online version of Peretz’s story and to publish the above statement prominently, with the title “Angelina Jolie Correction” in the October edition of V.F. and also on VF.com. In response to these requests, V.F. reviewed the transcript and audiotape of Peretz’s interview with Jolie for the story. Peretz had recorded it on two devices. A transcript of the relevant section is reproduced below.
AJ: But it was very hard to find a little Loung. And so it was what they call a slum school. I don’t think that’s a very nice word for it, but a school for kids in very poor areas.
And I think, I mean they didn’t know. We just went in and—you just go in and do some auditions with the kids. And it’s not really an audition with children. We had this game where it would be—and I wasn’t there and they didn’t know what they were really doing. They kind of said, “Oh, a camera’s coming up and we want to play a game with you.” And the game for that character was “We’re going to put some money on the table. Think of something that you need that money for.” Sometimes it was money, sometimes it was a cookie. [Laughter] “And then take it.” And then we would catch them. “We’re going to catch you, and we’d like you to try to lie that you didn’t have it.”
So it was very interesting seeing the kids and how they would—some were very conscious of the camera. They were actually—there are so many talented kids in this country. But Srey Moch was the only child that stared at that money for a very, very long time before she picked it up, and then bravely, brazenly lying, like was trying to hide, but then she also kind of—
EP: Wait. This is the girl, Loung.
AJ: This is the girl. And then when she was forced to give it back became very kind of like strong, emotional, she became overwhelmed with emotion that she was—and she just—all of these different things flooded out. And I don’t think she or her family would mind me saying when she was later asked what that money was for, she said her grandfather died and they didn’t have enough money for a nice funeral.
After reviewing the audiotape, V.F. stands by Peretz’s story as published.
From a media/celebrity-relations perspective, this is interesting because Vanity Fair is standing up to Angelina Jolie. They’re not afraid of her, even if it means she will never agree to another Vanity Fair interview again. As for the actual Jolie quotes…there are absolutely exploitative aspects with this story, but what I keep coming back to is that I truly believe that the auditions were set up as “games” for these kids, that the kids were asked to use their imaginations and play pretend. Whether they could tell the difference between a game and reality is up to question. It’s also worth noting that a lot of abusive situations are set up as a “game.” Then again, this is telling: “We had this game where it would be—and I wasn’t there and they didn’t know what they were really doing.” Then Jolie shouldn’t insist on a retraction, if she wasn’t there and doesn’t really know what happened. Also: where were Peretz’s follow-up questions about this stuff? After that story, can I get a “let’s go back to the audition process, please explain that further because your description is begging for more context”?
Photos courtesy of Getty, Vanity Fair.