Angelina Jolie is a finely-tuned PR machine. Her image has been deftly crafted and it’s because of her perception prowess that she’s viewed as an angelic, yet sexy, luminary who simultaneously rescues children and shines on the silver screen. In recent years Jolie’s humanitarian work has, in some respects, eclipsed her work in film as a director and actress.
It’s why Jolie’s interview with Vanity Fair and its troubling revelations are all the more difficult to understand (and stomach). In July, the magazine published a seemingly innocuous interview with Jolie. It was intended to paint her as an ideal mother during her tumultuous divorce with Brad Pitt. Beyond how the article was intended to be received, it revealed a sadistic audition “game” Jolie and her crew played to cast a young Cambodian girl for the biopic about refugee that she’s directing.
The so-called “game” was more akin to psychological torture. Casting directors put money (or apparently a cookie) on a table and asked girls from “slum schools” to snatch the money away after imagining something they “needed” it for. The director would then “snatch” the child away — instructing her to explain why she stole the money.
Following the predictable backlash — though I’m not sure Jolie or Vanity Fair actually saw it coming — Jolie released a statement to The Huffington Post. “I am upset that a pretend exercise in an improvisation, from an actual scene in the film, has been written about as if it was a real scenario,” Jolie said. “The suggestion that real money was taken from a child during an audition is false and upsetting. I would be outraged myself if this had happened.”
On Thursday, Vanity Fair responded to Jolie’s public dispute of how the “game” was represented. The magazine also disclosed Jolie’s attempt to force a retraction.
From Vanity Fair:
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 asked that Vanity Fair remove the paragraph from its article and publish the above paragraph entitled “Angelina Jolie Correction.” After reviewing the transcripts, Vanity Fair (rightfully) refused to comply with her lawyer’s request. Jolie’s comments to author Evgenia Peretz are absolutely consistent with the printed story.
Here’s a transcribed version of Jolie’s comments:
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.”
How could a woman who is not only a career celebrity, but also Special Envoy for the United Nations Commissioner for Refuges, think this was okay? My question is twofold.
Firstly, how could an actress who has been in Hollywood since she was born not know her interview was recorded? It’s almost inconceivable. Peretz would have been legally obliged to tell Jolie she was recording the interview since California is a two-party consent state and the conversation took place at Jolie’s Los Angeles home. Also, as a finely-tuned PR machine, Jolie would almost certainly be aware — even if it weren’t illegal to record someone without their permission in California — that she was being recorded. Or someone on her team would have known.
The more distressing question is why Jolie thought this was an objectively normal casting audition and that it was perfectly acceptable to repeat. Jolie’s flagrant ignorance to how she comes across, especially given her dedication to humanitarian causes, is strange at best.
Jolie’s description of the game, delivered with laughter and that gleaming smile, is nearly the same as Peretz’s. I’ve read it over and over. For the life of me, I can’t comprehend how casually she characterized the audition. It goes beyond tone-deaf: Jolie truly saw nothing wrong with the “game.” It was normal to her. In fact, it’s unlikely Jolie would have ever realized how cruel the audition was if people on social media hadn’t pointed it out.
It begs another question: is the Angelina Jolie we see fighting for human rights internationally, six children in tow, sincere? Or is she simply a skilled actress maintaining a finely-tuned persona?