Almost a year after the news that Angelina Jolie was filing for divorce from Brad Pitt after 11 years of marriage, tabloid gossip, and preternaturally beautiful children, Jolie broke her silence on the cover of Vanity Fair’s September issue. As far as spinning stories of turbulence into ones of resilience goes, Jolie beatifically lowering herself from the clouds to deliver her account for a magazine cover story — one that gushes over her humanitarian work, besides — is as straight-up as PR strategies get.
But in between penning florid descriptions of Jolie’s new home and lavishing praise upon her commitment to humanitarian causes, writer Evgenia Peretz included an anecdote that has eclipsed anything Jolie actually said about her famous marriage. Peretz writes about casting directors for Jolie’s Netflix film First They Killed My Father — a memoir adaptation about the Cambodian genocide — auditioning child actors to gauge how they could emote under pressure and instill an “authentic connection to pain” for the movie itself. Here is the segment in question, in its entirety:
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.”
As described, this casting process isn’t just jaw-droppingly insensitive, it’s a deeply disturbing way to treat children in general, let alone those who have already undergone significant hardship.
Once this excerpt of the cover story started getting more and more attention, Jolie herself responded to Entertainment Weekly through a publicist, thoroughly denouncing the story as “false and upsetting,” and that she would be “outraged” if it were at all true. Furthermore, Jolie said, “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 ... no one was in any way hurt by participating in the recreation of such a painful part of their country’s history.”
But Jolie’s counter to Vanity Fair’s assertions didn’t stop there. According to Vanity Fair, Jolie’s lawyer sent the magazine a formal request for an apology, retraction, and visible correction to the story to clarify that no one was “tricked,” all of the children auditioning “were made aware of the fictional aspect of the exercise,” and that Vanity Fair was very sorry for “any misunderstanding.” And that, Jolie’s undoubtedly formidable legal team may have figured, could have been that.
Unluckily for them, Vanity Fair has the receipts.
The magazine not only reviewed both of the recording devices Peretz used to tape the interview, but published a transcript of the relevant moment when Jolie discussed the audition process — and it sure sounds exactly like what Peretz described.
[Jolie]: 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—
[Peretz]: Wait. This is the girl, Loung.
Jolie: 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 this portion of the interview, Vanity Fair’s response then states, with such stark confidence that you can almost hear the mic dropping, “V.F. stands by Peretz’s story as published.”
As of this writing, Jolie has not responded. And if Vanity Fair has two separate recordings on its side to back up its account, it’s hard to imagine how Jolie could further refute it.