Controversy around The Third Wife’s use of child actress in sex scenes deepens

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The movie The Third Wife has sparked off a public debate and outcry over its use of a 13-year-old actress in intimate scenes.

Though Nguyen Phuong Tra My’s family had consented, having a child act in sensitive scenes violates the Law on Children and Labour Code, Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs Dao Ngoc Dung (Molisa) said on Friday.

In The Third Wife (aka Vo Ba in Vietnamese) directed by Nguyen Phuong Anh (Ash Mayfair), My plays the third wife of a landowner in the 19th century. She has some sexually intimate scenes with her husband played by Le Vu Long and his second wife, played by Mai Thu Huong aka Maya.

Officials working in child protection spoke out against the use of the child actress in such scenes saying they could have a psychological effect on her.

The children’s department under the ministry also expressed disapproval. Dang Hoa Nam, its head, said: “The Third Wife uses 13-year-old actress Tra My in sensitive scenes and contains inappropriate dialogues, this is not allowed.”

“We will examine whether the producer and director performs the action of coaxing children into doing pornographic and unhealthy activities,” he said.

Controversy around The Third Wifes use of child actress in sex scenes deepens

A scene in the film The Third Wife featuring actress Nguyen Phuong Tra My.

“The film crew could have definitely used a body double or actress above 18 for the scenes,” he added.

This is done by many directors. In the 2018 movie Thach Thao (Heather), for a rape scene involving a high-school student, the director used a 21-year-old body double. In television series Quynh Bup Be (Quynh Doll) last year, a 30-year-old actress played a 16-year-old sold to a brothel.

Last Monday the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism instructed the Cinema Department to review the licensing of the film.

But the chorus of protests notwithstanding, it is unclear if The Third Wife’s makers broke the laws. Since the Cinema Law has not specified regulations concerning adolescences acting in sexual scenes, it is hard to identify to what extent children can join sexual scenes, according to filmmakers and industry insiders.

Some filmmakers were noncommittal. Director Hong Anh said: “I think both opposing and supporting sides have their points. Our law in this case is unclear.”

The producers said they broke no law in producing and distributing the film, and it was approved by the Cinema Department for release in Vietnam.

My was represented by her mother in the contract. The crew took every measure to protect her while filming sensitive scenes, with only women – the director, assistant director and camerawoman -being on the set.

“When filming the ‘hot’ scene, the crew ensured the camera angles and [body] accessories prevented any [exposure] but still managed to create an effect of intimacy between them,” producer Tran Thi Bich Ngoc said.

My too said she was well protected on the sets. She wore a protective sheath while her mother closely followed the filming.

Following the public uproar, the film producers decided to pull it from cinemas from May 21.

But its foreign release will go ahead as planned. It was released in the U.S. on May 15 and is set to be shown in 27 other markets.

The Third Wife is a critically acclaimed debut feature for Mayfair. The film has won several prizes at international festivals including the NETPAC Award at the Toronto International Film Festival (Canada), TVE-Another Look award at the San Sebastian Film Festival (Spain) and Best Film award at the Kolkata International Film Festival (India).

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