Dakota Fanning Controversy
All child screen actresses face that awkward moment when they are no longer pig-tailed little girls and their quest for more mature roles clashes with their adoring public, but the great Dakota Fanning controversy of 2007 pushed this age-old Hollywood dilemma to new extremes. Fanning's rape scene in the movie "Hounddog" alienated fans, angered religious groups and sparked a debate about the roles child actors should play.
"Hounddog" tells the story of a nine-year-old girl named Lewellen growing up in rural Alabama in the 1950s. In the movie, the motherless Lewellen lives with her father, disabled and out of work after a freak lightning strike. Despite her hard-knock life, Lewellen finds hope in the music of Elvis Presley, especially the song "Hound Dog." However, a neighbor boy exploits her love of the singer to lure her into a shed with the promise of an Elvis concert ticket. In the shed, he rapes her – and that is the scene that sparked the Dakota Fanning controversy.
By the time the movie premiered at Sundance, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights had called for a ban of the film. Even former child actor Paul Peterson of "Donna Reed" fame decried Dakota Fanning's rape scene, telling the "Guardian" newspaper, "If I put her through those things for my home video I would be in jail." The implication was clear: rape scenes for twelve-year-old actresses are nothing short of criminal child porn.
Many who cried out about the Fanning controversy were upset about the Hollywood sweetheart's career taking a dark turn from movies such as "Charlotte's Web." However, they ignored some of the nuances of her career. Although "Hounddog" was different because of its sexual content and Fanning's newfound adolescence, many of her previous roles involved disturbing and even violent situations – including witnessing a homicide. Sex combined with violence proved too much.
Because Fanning was just twelve years old, fans and child advocates worried she could not give proper consent. Just as the law does not recognize a child's ability to consent to sex, it should not, they argued, recognize a child actor's ability to consent to a sex scene. They portrayed the rape scene as pure exploitation and possibly even child pornography. Some protestors even feared the rape scene could promote pedophilia to the masses. Finally, some fans simply did not want to witness such disgusting, nightmarish images.
Dakota Fanning fired back, alleging that some protestors took their accusations too far, verbally attacking her mother. The child star told "USA Today" the attacks were extremely painful. Fans should take note: she never said filming the scene was painful, only the attacks against her family. Regardless of her tender age, Fanning seemed to emerge from the horrific scene unscathed.
Supporters of the movie point out that writer and director Deborah Kampmeier – a woman -- made sure the scene never shows nudity and never simulates sexual acts. Rather, the camera focuses on Fanning's face as she gasps and cries. Fanning says she performed most of those close-ups alone – meaning she never had to portray anything like an actual rape. Still, protestors argue she had to imagine the scene, and children should not have to role-play rape.
Regardless of how tactfully the rape scene was filmed or how unscathed Fanning seems, the Dakota Fanning controversy should spark serious soul searching about how Hollywood uses child actors. After all, someone has to watch out for the kids.