Wednesday, March 29, 2006


This should help clear up any confusion about the real Dith Pran and the actor who played his part in The Killing Fields. (Thanks, Unca Google!)


The portrayal of Dith Pran in "The Killing Fields" won an Oscar for fellow Cambodian Haing Ngor, who had also escaped the violence of the Khmer Rouge. But Ngor escaped the genocide in Cambodia only to be shot to death in this country. He was killed on a street in Los Angeles. Now Dith Pran, who's working in New York as a photographer for The New York Times, wants to make sure people never forget the genocide in Cambodia. He has compiled a collection of personal essays by survivors of the killing fields.

-- from (transcript of an MSNBC-TV interview with the real Dith Pran)


Dith Pran (born September 27, 1942 ) is a photojournalist best known as a refugee and Cambodian Holocaust survivor and was the subject of the Academy Award-winning film The Killing Fields. (He was portrayed in the movie by first time actor Haing S. Ngor, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance.)

In 1975, Pran and New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg stayed behind in Cambodia to cover the fall of the capital Phnom Penh to the communist Khmer Rouge forces. Schanberg and other foreign reporters were allowed to leave, but Pran was not permitted to leave the country. When Cambodians were forced to work in forced labor camps, Pran had to endure four years of starvation and torture, before finally escaping to Thailand.

He has been a photojournalist with the New York Times in the United States since 1980. Pran has worked for recognition of the Cambodian Holocaust victims. He received an Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1998 and is founder and president of The Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project, Inc.



Dr. Haing S. Ngor ( March 22, 1940 –February 25, 1996 ) was a Cambodian American physician and actor who is best known for winning a 1985 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in the movie The Killing Fields, in which he portrayed journalist and refugee Dith Pran in 1970s Cambodia, under the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Ngor himself lived through the Cambodian holocaust, and survived by hiding the fact that he was an obstetrician and gynecologist. As an educated person and a professional, he would have been killed under the harsh regime and purges of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. After the collapse of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Ngor worked as a doctor in a refugee camp inside Thailand, and left for the United States on August 30, 1980.

In 1988, he wrote Haing Ngor: A Cambodian Odyssey, detailing his life under the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. In the second edition Survival in the Killing Fields, Roger Warner, Ngor's co-author, adds an epilogue telling the story of Ngor's life after winning the Academy Award.

On February 25, 1996 , Ngor was shot to death outside his apartment in Los Angeles, California, by members of a street gang who demanded the locket around his neck. The locket contained a picture of his late wife; none of the money in his wallet (reportedly a few hundred dollars in cash) was stolen. There was some speculation at the time that the gang members were acting at the behest of Khmer Rouge sympathizers in the U.S., but this was never proven.

Three 19-year-old members of the Oriental Lazy Boyz street gang were arrested and charged with Ngor's murder. They were separately tried and convicted in the Superior Court of Los Angeles. Tak Sun Tan was sentenced to 56 years to life; Indra Lim to 26 years to life; Jason Chan to life without parole. In 2004, the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California granted Tak Sun Tan's habeas corpus petition, finding that prosecutors had manipulated the jury's sympathy by presenting false evidence. This decision was reversed and the conviction was ultimately upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in July 2005 .

Ngor survived incredible dangers during his life in Cambodia only to die violently in his adopted homeland, but he told a New York Times reporter after the release of The Killing Fields, "If I die from now on, OK! This film will go on for a hundred years."


1 comment:

Nancy Williams said...

Here's the background information on "The Killing Fields" that was handed out in class Tuesday night.

The Killing Fields (1984)

The Killing Fields is an extraordinarily powerful film. It's a strong indictment of modern war in general and the American conduct of the war in Cambodia in particular, but its great strength
derives from its secondary themes of the power of friendship and the importance of a will to survive, as well as general comments on accepting responsibility for one's actions. This rich combination of themes is what lifts The Killing Fields above most other films.

The Killing Fields is based on a true story. Sydney Schanberg was the New York Times correspondent to Cambodia during the 1970s. He worked closely with his interpreter, Dith Pran, a Cambodian journalist. Together, they exposed many of the US atrocities in Cambodia which resulted from our secret war there, a spillover from the Vietnam War. Sydney and Pran also became good friends, but when Lon Nol's government fell and Pol Pot took over, Schanberg was able to escape and Pran could not. As Schanberg heard more and more of the horrors of the Pol Pot regime, Communism gone mad, he castigated himself more and more for persuading Pran to remain even when it was no longer safe. Meanwhile, Pran struggled to survive in a nation in which 3 million people, out of a population of 7 million, were killed in the course of a few years.

The Killing Fields is composed of three separate segments. First, we see Sydney and Pran at work in war-torn Cambodia. Then, as things fall apart, the journalists seek refuge in the French embassy in Phnom Penh. Finally, Pran tries to stay alive and escape from a hell on earth while Sydney guiltily receives the rewards for their work in the safety of America. The filmmakers deserve much credit for seamlessly binding together three separate stories.


The Killing Fields (1984), a remarkable and deeply affecting film, is based upon a true story of friendship, loyalty, the horrors of war and survival, while following the historical events surrounding the US evacuation from Vietnam in 1975. The authentic-looking, unforgettable epic film, directed by Roland Joffe (his first feature film) and produced by David Puttnam (the Oscar victor three years earlier for Chariots of Fire (1981)), was shot on location in Thailand (and Canada). Cambodian doctor, non-actor Haing Ngor, in his film debut, was an actual survivor of the Cambodian holocaust. He was tortured and experienced the starvation and death of his real-life family during the actual historical events revisited in this film.