Consider this your early-warning Sundance Film Festival controversy alert: Cute little Dakota Fanning plays a precocious child sex-abuse and rape victim in Full Moon Films' upcoming "Hounddog."
The issue: Fanning, who turns 13 next month, is reportedly depicted in the film nude or scantily clad during compromising scenes, and her face is shown in close-up during a rape scene.
Early reports of the film's contents have stirred up a minor Internet storm over whether Fanning's mother, Joy, and her agent, Cindy Osbrink, are exploiting the girl in hopes of an Oscar nomination. In a statement, writer-director Deborah Kampmeier urged critics to withhold judgment until seeing the film.
Child actors depicted in sexual roles is nothing new in Hollywood. Jena Malone portrayed a child rape victim in "Bastard Out of Carolina" (1996), pre-adolescent Brooke Shields' virginity was auctioned off in Louis Malle's "Pretty Baby" (1978) and Jodie Foster famously played a child prostitute in Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" (1976). All were younger than 15 at the time.
Such roles can vault a young actress from the category of "adorable" into being taking seriously as an artist, and Osbrink was quoted this summer as holding out hopes for an Oscar nomination - despite the subject matter, which the New York Daily News reported had scared off some investors during filming.
Fanning is already an experienced actress with more than 30 roles listed on the www.imdb.com web site, including roles in the slasher film "Hide and Seek" and the remake of "War of the Worlds" (both 2005), and as Fern in "Charlotte's Web" (2006).
One of those outraged is Ted Baehr of the Camarillo-based Christian Film & Television Commission.
Baehr, whose advocacy group also runs the movieguide.org website that ranks films based on Christian themes and family appeal, said he hasn't seen the film but is calling on movie distributors to reject the film and report the filmmakers to legal authorities. The movie has the first of four Sundance screenings Jan. 22
"It's pedophilia," Baehr said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "There should be a sense of outrage about it."
Baehr described the filmmakers as "politically correct moral degenerates" who "tolerate sexual promiscuity, including pedophilia."
Kampmeier responded that it was the "height of hypocrisy for a man who bills himself as a film reviewer to pass judgment on movie he's never seen. Mr. Baehr's statements about 'Hounddog,' while repugnant, are also factually incorrect. It is a sad statement about his own morals that Mr. Baehr wants to censor films at all, much less films that tackle difficult but real life issues that need to be addressed. It is a slippery slope that every American should be afraid of."
Representatives for the film also released a statement from Lynn Parrish, a spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, who has seen the movie: "RAINN applauds the makers of 'Hounddog' for shedding light on the issue of sexual assault against our nation's children, a problem we see every day. It is our hope that the national discussion created by the film will give a voice to young survivors everywhere, encouraging them to come forward despite the hurdles they face."
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