When the producers of a new film, based on the real life experiences of New York Times correspondent Sydney Schanberg, went looking for an actor to portray Schanberg's assistant and interpreter, they decided that the best actor was no actor at all. Dr. Haing S. Ngor was asked to take on the role, despite the fact that he had no acting experience whatsoever. What Dr. Ngor did bring to the role though, was his real life experience under the horrendous rule of the Khmer Rouge. Haing Ngor had lived through the very reality that this film had hoped to portray.

Dr. Ngor's ability to call upon his own experience and emotion in the role as Dith Pran, in "The Killing Fields", earned him both a Golden Globe and an Oscar for "Best Actor in a Supporting Role" in 1985. Dr. Ngor's newfound celebrity put a face on Cambodia and its largely ignored holocaust.

As of 2018, Dr. Haing S. Ngor remains the only Asian to ever win the Academy Award for "Best Supporting Actor", and only the second "non-professional" to win an Academy Award (the other was Harold Russell, for "The Best Years of Our Lives" in 1946).