In Depth

Angelina Jolie's genocide film sparks backlash

Human Rights Watch has expressed concern about children's auditions for First They Killed My Father

Angelina Jolie's latest film might already be generating Oscar buzz, but her casting decisions have attracted attention for all the wrong reasons.

The director has been widely criticised on social media after she revealed how children were auditioned to star in First They Killed My Father, a forthcoming Netflix film about the Cambodian genocide.

"The casting directors set up a game, rather disturbing in its realism," says Vanity Fair. "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."

Twitter users branded the game "cruel" and accused Jolie of "traumatising poor Cambodian children."

Human Rights Watch has also raised concerns about the reported use of Cambodian soldiers in the film and questioned why Jolie, a UN goodwill ambassador with personal ties to the country, would hire them.

"Working with the Cambodian army is a no-go zone, it's a red flag, and it's a terrible mistake," Brad Adams, executive director of the organisation's Asia division, told New York Magazine. "This is an army that is basically an occupying force of a dictatorship. The kind of thing that she stands for is in direct contrast to what this government is."

This isn't the first time Jolie's work in Cambodia has prompted ethical concerns, the magazine reports.

"Back in 2002, she purchased land for the Maddox Jolie-Pitt Foundation from Yim Tith, an alleged mass murderer and former commander for the Khmer Rouge," it says.

Jolie has not yet responded to the criticism, but in a teaser trailer released earlier this year she describes the film as a "love letter" to the Cambodian people.

The Netflix original is an adaptation of Loung Ung's memoir of the Khmer Rouge genocide, in which her parents and two of her siblings were killed, along with a quarter of Cambodia's population.

"I'm doing this for [Ung], for her family, for Cambodia and very much also for Maddox," Jolie said of her eldest son, who was adopted from the country.  She said she hoped he would learn "about who he is and becomes that much more connected to his country".

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