The producer of Vietnamese hit The Third Wife has ceased screening it in all cinemas given a debate over ‘suggestive scenes’ played by a 13-year-old actress, days after the film made its debut at the domestic box office.
The Third Wife, directed by Vietnam’s Ash Mayfair and produced by Tran Thi Bich Ngoc, sets in 19th century rural Vietnam and revolves around a 14-year-old girl who is married into a wealthy family to be the third wife of a powerful landowner.
The film tackles injustice faced by Vietnamese women in the past and other outdated customs such as arranged child marriage, gender prejudice and polygamy.
Making a hit with its international debut in 2016, The Third Wife went on to win many prestigious awards including Best Asian Film at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival.
The independent film had been commercially shown in 28 countries and territories before debuting in Vietnamese theaters on May 17.
Controversy surrounding the movie arose after it was revealed that actress Nguyen Phuong Tra My, who plays the lead female role, was under 13 years old during filming.
In the movie, Tra My appears in many ‘suggestive scenes’ where her titular character engages in sexual activities with her husband.
Critics of casting Tra My said acting in sexual scenes can have a lasting psychological impact on the young actress that she, her parents and the crew might not fully comprehend.
Meanwhile, supporters of the casting choice argued the film crew should be credited for their efforts in addressing a sensitive issue in Vietnamese society.
They also praised Tra My for her exceptional performance in The Third Wife.
The film is rated 18+ in Vietnam, meaning those under 18 years old are barred from viewing it in cinemas.
|A scene in Vietnamese independent film ‘The Third Wife’|
On Monday, the Vietnam Cinema Department said the producer of The Third Wife had asked to withdraw the film from all domestic theaters following such a debate.
The withdrawal decision was made due to “pressure from the press and public opinion,” the film producer said in a statement on Monday evening, adding that they did not want the debate to “go too far and have an impact on the family and personal life of Tra My.”
Producer Ngoc said the film “doesn’t deserve to be deliberately criticized” and that attention should be better directed to “real-life child abuse issues” instead of at a movie.
The casting of Tra My in the lead role was agreed upon by the girl and her parents, pursuant to Vietnamese laws on employing child actresses, she said.
Measures such as having her mother present on the set at all times and allowing only a limited number of female crew members to join the shooting of ‘sensitive’ scenes were in place to provide the best emotional and physical protection for the girl, Ngoc said in the statement.
All scenes featuring Tra My were filmed with professionalism and in a manner best suited for her age and psychological development, she added.
Her private parts were never exposed in the movie or during filming, Ngoc stressed.
Ngoc added she was considering legal action against agencies, newspapers and websites that she said had damaged the reputation of the producer, the film, and the dignity of its actress by publishing defamatory articles about The Third Wife.