Vanity Fair’s September cover story featuring Angelina Jolie has been the subject of controversy since the end of July. Jolie released a formal statement following the backlash; her lawyers asked for a specific paragraph to be deleted; Vanity Fair responded that they stand by their decision to print it — all of which is available online for public consumption (we’ll get to that in a minute). The entire exchange made think about how social media has affected our expectations of authenticity and transparency, which made me wonder, “Forget the formal statement. Should Angelina Jolie just apologize?”
The rundown of events are as follows.
Vanity Fair’s September cover story is a profile on Angelina Jolie. In one controversial paragraph, Jolie discusses her casting directors’ technique for choosing the lead of her most recent film, First They Killed My Father. Vanity Fair published the following:
“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.’”
this is deliberate emotional abuse inflicted upon kids and not a word should be spoken in its defense. https://t.co/l73qJJuvN4
— dan (@_suprdan) July 27, 2017
“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. Parents, guardians, partner NGOs whose job it is to care for children, and medical doctors were always on hand everyday, to ensure everyone had all they needed. And above all to make sure that no one was in any way hurt by participating in the recreation of such a painful part of their country’s history. 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. 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. The point of this film is to bring attention to the horrors children face in war, and to help fight to protect them.”
On August 3rd, Vanity Fair responded:
“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 also asked us to remove the original paragraph from the online version of Peretz’s story and to publish the above statement prominently, with the title ‘Angelina Jolie Correction’ in the October edition of V.F. and also on VF.com.”
In their response, Vanity Fair writes that they reviewed the transcript and audiotape of Peretz’s interview with Jolie. They produced “a relevant section” of the transcript below this information. Below the transcript, a conclusion from Vanity Fair: “After reviewing the audiotape, V.F. stands by Peretz’s story as published.”
The entire exchange has made me think about how we metabolize scandal, as a culture, in the internet age. We have become accustomed to “communicating” with celebrities in a far more personal manner by way of social media. In times of controversy, celebrities make statements, clarifications and apologies on their personal Twitter and Instagram accounts. No matter how filtered, the effect is that of a direct line. Does a formal release, like the one Angelina Jolie’s lawyer issued, hold up with fans and critics?
The era of “statements” issued through publishers feels over. Truthful record-setting is expected to come straight from the source. The internet is armed and ready with receipts. (Remember last year’s Taylor Swift/Kanye West “Famous” controversy?) And whether it’s studied proactive measure or because they’re part of the online world too, mouth-to-ear celebrity apologies are becoming more common.
In May 2017, Kathy Griffin apologized on twitter for sharing a video in which she held up a beheaded, blood-soaked image of President Trump. “I made a mistake and I was wrong,” she wrote. In December 2016, Lena Dunham apologized on Instagram for a comment she made on her podcast about abortion, calling it “distasteful.” In August 2016, Demi Lovato expressed her “deepest apologies” for joking about the Zika virus.
Given how accustomed we are to transparency in this day and age, Jolie’s formally-issued response sounds hollow and…shady? It’s a shame. She has been a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees since 2001. Her extensive volunteer work has labeled her a humanitarian. Yet this recent scandal poses to chip away at the paint of her perfection. That being said, there’s nothing like a genuine apology to provide a fresh coat. Here’s the question: do you think she should give one, or was the statement she issued enough?
Photo by Dave J Hogan/WireImage via Getty Images.