A summary of the view from Cambodia via Cambodia Daily
Analysts say most Cambodians are unaware, or unfazed, by some of the criticisms leveled at her and respect her efforts to put their country on the map.
“If you look at the criticism, it’s usually from the expat community and foreigners,” says political analyst Ou Virak, head of public policy at the Future Forum think tank. “I think in general her contribution has been tremendous for Cambodia as well as the Cambodian people.”
Cambodian film director Sok Visal said he didn’t know what tactics were employed during the “First They Killed My Father” casting process, but that he expects it was likely done with care as Rithy Panh, the country’s most famous filmmaker, co-directed the feature.
“I think the media turned it into something very big because…they need something to talk about. It sells newspapers,” he says.
Kounila Keo, a public policy scholar and managing director of PR firm Redhill Asia, was also skeptical about the veracity of events that caused the recent furor.
“If any abuse had really happened, I believe the professional Cambodian crew would have stepped in and intervened immediately,” she wrote in an email.“To be fair, the movie she just released in Cambodia and was working on with the Cambodian crew is going to help put Cambodia in the spotlight.”
And while the recent commotion over Ms. Jolie’s involvement in Cambodia is unlikely to be the last in the international press, Mr. Virak says she’ll continue to shine in the eyes of most Cambodians.
“They love her,” he says. “She’s a white person, a barang, a very well-known one, who actually showed that she cared about Cambodia.”
I wrote previously that it is was odd that Angelina's lawyer was pursuing her case with VF after she and Panh were initially reluctant to reply at all to critics. I wondered if she was pressed to act by the casting directors, parents, guardians, NGOs etc in Cambodia who felt aggrieved by suggestions they were not doing their job looking after the children's welfare during the auditions. That they caused or allowed "abuse." She would also be very protective of her crew and her extended film "family."
The statements Angelina and Panh issued, as well as the one her lawyer wanted VF to print, dwelled at length on the care they took looking after the children's welfare.
The public criticisms centered on two aspects: the nature of the exercise and whether the children were aware it was only a pretend exercise and they were being asked to act.
- On the first, I had noted that the transcript seems to show that Angelina herself didn't entirely approve of the exercise they came up with: "I wasn’t there and they didn’t know what they were really doing." Despite her reservations and her normally finely tuned antenna, she did not give a clear, well-thought out description of the audition process. Perhaps we can ascribe this to the fact that she has never before given an interview where she was distracted with protecting information about her family.
There are probably very few, if any, professional child actors in Cambodia and they -- the casting directors -- must have tested every age-appropriate child they could find. They likely didn't have a clear idea of how to stage an audition that would allow them to discover children with acting talent and the fortitude for the graphic, violent film. Angelina and Panh explained that the casting directors devised the game based on a scene from the film when Luong and her siblings were caught and accused of stealing by the Khmer Rouge. I can understand that there are very few happy episodes in the script for the young Luong and they needed a child who could handle heavy, stressful, emotional scenes. But it can be argued that there are many other scenarios they could have devised for the audition and I am sure in hindsight they wish they had.
- On the second, Peretz's abbreviated description of the "game" left out crucial details:
that the children were told beforehand about the camera,
that a cookie was sometimes placed before the children and they presumably were supposed to pretend it was money,
that they were told the casting directors were going to "pretend" to catch them,
that in trying to "act" some children were very conscious of the camera.
Those omitted details could have forestalled criticism that the children were tricked and didn't know they were being asked to act out a scene. It is the "mistake" in VF's report.
We can see where the transcript helps support her case, but it left open a number questions -- such as whether real money was ever placed before the children. She only said "money," she didn't say pretend money. It didn't help that Angelina's description included a lot of dangling, unfinished sentences.
I suppose the definitive response to all this would be if they released some audition tapes to help prove their case and settle the issue. Together with an explanation from the casting directors actually involved.
Vanity Fair has not tweeted about Angelina's cover story since July 27 when they tweeted this:
The portfolio cements Angelina Jolie’s status as a modern-day Hollywood Renaissance woman https://t.co/c4u5M9DUwe— VANITY FAIR (@VanityFair) July 27, 2017
It has been sister publication Vogue that has been sending out regular tweets promoting the cover story.
Angelina Jolie discusses life after Brad, single motherhood, and putting on a brave face for her brood. https://t.co/NxHFma99EU— Vogue Magazine (@voguemagazine) August 5, 2017
VF sent out one low key tweet with a link to their response. They were trying to keep this from being perceived as a war between them and to salvage what has been a long-running relationship. If her lawyer had not pressed VF, it appeared they were prepared to just go with their initial statement that critics did not read the article properly. But they probably felt that hearing from her lawyer -- presumed to be Robert Offer -- was a fairly aggressive, if not threatening action. This would not be the first time Offer's actions stirred controversy. The demands he made of journalists covering promotions for A Might Heart had also caused a furor. At the time, he said Angelina was not aware of his efforts to "protect" her. Given the puzzling aspects, it's altogether possible that this is again part of a misjudged attempt to protect her without her knowledge. I had noted in a previous post how both she and Brad have friends who are very protective of them after watching them go through an excruciating period.
I think it is in both Angelina's and VF's interests to settle this amicably.
What should have been a routine exercise of having a best-selling cover story to promote a film has been overshadowed by one paragraph that was poorly thought out on both sides.
There is no question that she has a lot of ground to (re)cover going forward between this and the events in and after September last year.
With promotion for FTKMF just starting, she has a lot of opportunities to respond and clarify. She will be hitting Telluride and TIFF in a few weeks.