Angelina Jolie’s (“Unbroken”) latest film project is a haunting film adaptation of Cambodian author Loung Ung’s “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers.” The film is a dramatic historical retelling of the horrors Ung and other Cambodian children endured during the deadly regime of the Khmer Rouge, which had an iron grip on the country from the late 1960s to early 1990s.
Ung was a five year old living in Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge stormed the city; within four years, Ung’s parents, two sisters, and 20 relatives were killed by the regime. According to Ung’s website, she escaped Cambodia with her older brother Meng and his wife via a boat to Thailand, where they lived in a refugee camp for five months before relocating to Vermont. Ung became a writer and activist, making over 30 trips back to Cambodia and serving as spokesperson for the Campaign for a Landmine Free World from 1997-2005.
Ung and Jolie wrote the film’s script and produced, while Jolie also directed the film. Cambodian child actors were hand-picked for their roles, and all are newcomers to acting. Among the group of producers for the film is Jolie’s son, Maddox Jolie-Pitt, who was adopted by Jolie from Cambodia in the early 2000s. Jolie-Pitt convinced his mother to do the film adaptation, which Jolie had put to the side to “avoid controversy in Cambodia,” according to Refinery29. According to Jolie, “[Maddox] was the one who just called it and said he was ready and that he wanted to work on it…he read the script, helped with notes, and was in production meetings.” The film is the fifteen year old’s first executive producing credit.
Jolie recently found herself in some hot water, after a Vanity Fair article claimed cruel audition practices were used during the children’s screen tests. The children were reportedly shown a sum of money, which was then abruptly taken away, in order see if the children had known hardship in their lives. After an Internet firestorm, Jolie and producer Rithy Panh released statements to Buzzfeed denying the allegations and explaining the child actors knew it was a scene from the film, which reflects a “real episode” from Ung’s childhood.
“First They Killed My Father” premieres Sept. 15 on Netflix. Watch the official trailer below.