Director Angelina Jolie and writer Loung Ung visited the 92nd Street Y in New York last night to discuss their Netflix film, First They Killed My Father, released in September 2017. The film follows the story of Ung’s childhood during the Cambodian-Vietnamese War, as she survives violence from the Khmer Rouge, labor camps, and becoming a child soldier. Jolie discovered Ung’s story after purchasing her book during a visit to Cambodia, and together they co-wrote the screenplay.
In one of the most poignant moments of Jolie’s talk, the actress offered her advice to young women today. “Your intelligence is everything,” she said. “Your mind and what you fill yourself with—you know, the woman that spends her day shopping is going to be that woman. And the woman that spends her day reading and traveling and learning and talking to people is going to be that woman. And that’s the woman you really want to be [the second one]. I think we have to encourage young women to know that, because they’re getting fed a lot of the other. And then with that, they’ll know. They’ll know, and they’ll feel it. They’ll do the work because they’ll become more aware of the world.”
Jolie also discussed her compassion for refugees and her love for Cambodia, which she first visited while filming Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001). It was the first big movie filmed in Cambodia following the war, she explained. “I expected a very angry people,” Jolie said. “I expected bitter. I expected it to be quite broken. …And I met the most extraordinary people. So resilient, so creative, so interesting, so dignified. And of course you should expect that for any country, and you shouldn’t have these ideas [that people will be bitter or broken].”
After her visit, she decided she wanted to learn more. “You can tell when you’re at the beginning of a journey,” she said. “And I encourage anybody out there to–when you know you’re being really true to yourself and you’re on point, things do line up. And you recognize where you should be and what you should be doing. And I was very fortunate that I felt it. And I got back, and I decided I would get involved.” She adopted her first son, Maddox, from the country in 2002, and she became a Cambodian citizen in 2005.
First They Killed My Father was recently nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture – Foreign Language, and is the Cambodian submission for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s Academy Awards, but was not chosen as a nominee.