Dakota Fanning in ‘War of the Worlds’ (Paramount)

A movie that includes a violent rape scene with 12-year-old actress Dakota Fanning as the victim has premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and even though published reports have quoted a prosecutor saying there were no child pornography laws broken, there still remain big questions, according to experts.

“Right away, I will tell you: 12-year-old Dakota Fanning plays a girl who endures a graphically suggested rape. If that’s not enough, she is also filmed sleeping dreamily while a half dozen real snakes slither all over her,” wrote Fox News’ Roger Friedman in his review of the film.

“The rape scene, no matter how it’s spun, is disturbing and unsettling in fictional terms. In real life, though, it’s creepier to think that Dakota’s parents considered this a scene that was appropriate for their daughter,” he wrote.

That is where Jan LaRue, chief counsel for Concerned Women for America, joined in.

Even though the production of the rape scene and the rest of the film may have stayed on the technically legal side of the fine line, “I can give other reasons for criticizing the film,” she told WND.

“I do think that there at least are sound ethical considerations for [questioning] how far they went with this 12-year-old girl, and whether this kind of so-called artistic film-making further desensitizes the public to what child abuse and child rape are,” she said.

“What you have here is a suggested scene. It’s implied that it’s happening. They’ve come close to a simulated sex scene, which means to give the appearance of the real thing.”

What would be illegal is an actual sex scene, or something that would to all viewers appear to be a real scene, if it is simulated, she said.

“I’ve still got moral and ethical questions about this, and the desensitization of the public. I don’t like those liberal Hollywood types who are dismissive, and say, ‘Oh, this child wasn’t psychologically damaged in any way.’ How do they know? How do they know what was going on in her mind at the time? We’ve got too many child actors who grow up with problems.”

Friedman noted in his review that the message in the movie is alarming. “‘Hounddog’ takes place in rural Tennessee around 1955, when Elvis Presley is just taking off. Dakota’s character, Lewellen, is obsessed with Elvis and sings his songs to anyone who asks her to.

“That her moves are suggestive is another matter altogether. The director seems to be implying that Lewellen is almost asking for her rape by a 20-year-old boy who delivers the family’s milk,” he wrote.

“It’s either that or Lewellen should be allowed to act seductively without fear of being attacked. Either way, the arguments do not stand up,” he said.

“And while Dakota can certainly carry a movie – that much is abundantly clear – why this material looked appealing to her parents is quite troubling,” he said. “Someone will release ‘Hounddog,’ most certainly, and a debate may – and should – rage on. Whether or not people will want to see it is another story.”

He noted that director Deborah Kampmeier, in publicizing the festival showing of the movie, “presented a spokeswoman from a rape-and-incest group in a preemptive strike against critics.”

“At least the producers of ‘Hounddog’ are aware that an uphill battle is facing them. But since the rape in the movie isn’t incest, and since Lewellen never tells anyone about it and the perpetrator isn’t punished, I suspect a raft of experts may not do the trick,” Friedman wrote.

The issue of using a child actress in a scene that is intended to portray graphic or violent sexual behavior isn’t exactly new. But the newest incident has been classified by many observers as more explicit than what was required of Jodie Foster, who as a 12-year-old played a prostitute in “Taxi Driver,” a 1976 Martin Scorsese production, or Brooke Shields, who was a New Orleans brothel worker in the “Pretty Baby” movie from 1978.

“It’s really no different than playing any other character. I’m still not playing myself. I get to experience different things people go through without going through them myself, which is no different from watching a news story and learning from that,” Fanning said in a report in the newspaper in Park City, Utah.

A report on CNET News also remembered that Shields also appeared in a racy jeans ad at age 15, when she told the audience, “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins.”

Fans of the young actress were disturbed by the scene. On a website for her followers, one wrote that “even if all the nudity and the child sex were edited out, that would still not ‘edit’ the fact that it was done in the first place. A child was filmed, live on set, naked and in the process of a sexual assault. THIS IS THE ISSUE.”

“This is just so wrong…,” another wrote.

Still another, Ebony, suggested that as an actress Fanning needs to expand her roles. “I don’t see why people are making a big deal about this. This girl is an extremely talented actress. She can’t play the safe roles forever. If she does, she will never grow as an actress. Do you guys really expect her to stay a child forever?”

To which another responded: “‘A child forever?’ This little girl IS a child. She’s only 12 years old! How could she NOT be a child? The parents should be ashamed of themselves for not protecting their child from even the ‘role playing’ of getting raped.”

Ted Baehr, founder and publisher of MOVIEGUIDE, and chairman of the Christian Film & Television Commission, said in a WND column that it was just “simulated pedophilia” being promoted by Hollywood.

“Where are this young girl’s parents? Where are her protectors? Well, Dakota’s mother reportedly has said that Dakota’s ‘gritty performance’ will win her an Oscar,” he wrote.

But he said many actresses he’s interviewed over the years after a “family film” say they want to play a prostitute, or such a role, to be on the “cutting edge.” He said, “Once they stoop to sleaze, their career usually craters… Some are so shunned after they stoop to conquer that they end up shoplifting or overdosing to survive the embarrassment.”

“Why do their careers crater? Quite simply, their peers in Hollywood have lied to them. Performing sleaze offends American teenagers, who are the largest group of moviegoers.

“A new entertainment poll of 12- to 24-year-olds in the United States has found that a high number of teenagers (58 percent of boys ages 12 to 17 and an amazing 74 percent of teen girls) are offended by sexual material in movies and TV programs,” he wrote.

Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said he’s approached federal investigators about the “Hounddog” project.

“It is unclear whether federal child pornography statutes have been broken in the course of filming this movie. It matters not a whit whether Fanning’s mother, along with Fanning’s teacher/child welfare worker, gave their consent,” he said. “What matters is whether they are an accessory to a crime. Accordingly, I am asking Andrew Oosterbaan, chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section within the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, to investigate this matter.”

“For the past five years, there has been a steady drumbeat of criticism aimed at the Catholic Church for allowing sexual abuse of minors to continue with impunity. Much of that criticism was right on target. Let’s see now whether Hollywood will be held to the same level of scrutiny for promoting simulated child rape movies,” Donohue said.

In the United Kingdom, one publication said whatever else happens, the movie “looks likely to sully Fanning’s hitherto squeaky-clean image.”

Published reports have said prosecutors in North Carolina, where the filming was done, investigated and found no violations of their state child pornography laws. DA Rex Gore’s office reported he was out of town for the first half of this week.

Earlier, Connie Jordan, a district attorney in Wilmington assigned to work with such complaints, said she was “aware” of the situation.

Carla Roberts, who runs the Yahweh Center Children’s Village for abused or neglected children in Wilmington, told WND she would have to wonder about the adults responsible for putting a child in such a position.

And, she said, she also is concerned by the ramifications for the child to whom that would be done.

The movie is an independent that had to raise additional money when some initial investors pulled their support because of the rape scene. And a script of “Hounddog” that WND reported earlier graphically describes her clothes dropping to the floor, and an assailant unzipping his jeans.

Others in the production include Isabelle Fuhrman, Cody Hanford, David Morse, Christoph Sanders, Jody Thompson and Robin Wright Penn.

The actress’ agent, Joy Osbrink, earlier told the New York Daily News fans shouldn’t worry.

“It’s not just the rape scene – the whole story is challenging Dakota as an actress. And I’ve never been so proud of her in my life. I’ve seen the dailies, and in every scene she gets better and better.”

In 2002, Fanning worked with Steven Spielberg as the lead child in a science fiction miniseries and she also appeared in “Trapped,” “Sweet Home Alabama,” and “Hansel & Gretel.” She later worked with Kurt Russell in “Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story,” and Tom Cruise in “War of the Worlds.”


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Previous commentary:

‘Hounddog’: Fanning the flames of perversion


Previous stories:

Dakota Fanning ‘raped’ in new film

Movie raters: Christian themes won’t be factor

Family movies best, Hollywood realizes

Does ‘PG’ rating mean ‘pro-God’?

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