Hounddog (aka The Untitled Dakota Fanning Project), an independent film premiering in January at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, includes a rape scene involving 12-year-old Dakota Fanning. It may be a question of taste, but I’m not sure if I am ready to see any young actor raped in the name of art. The controversy is reminiscent of the kind of outrage generated by a nude Brooke Shields in the 1978 film Pretty Baby. The film, and Shields’ performance, was frequently referred to as groundbreaking, but I am still not convinced that child nudity is a necessary evil when portraying young actors in a coming-of-age-under-extreme-circumstance film.
There are several disturbing justifications provided by writer-director Deborah Kempmeier as quoted in an article appearing in the January/February 2007 issue of Premiere Magazine. She offers that the rape scene “…was never run through from start to finish; it was shot in increments, over and over…” as a way to explain how non-traumatizing such a scene could be for the young actor. I have no doubt that the utmost care was used to shelter Fanning from the reality of a re-enacted rape, but she surely knew what the scene entailed. And if she didn’t then, she sure does now.
Another excerpt from the article has Kempmeier describing how Fanning did not need to be violated in order to give a believable performance, and that such an assumption “denies her talent”. It is highly doubtful that concerned citizens, including myself, are involved in the colossal misunderstanding that Fanning was actually raped during the shooting of the scene. The point that Kempmeier is missing entirely is that Fanning is a child, and despite her age was asked to portray a character in a role that is overtly sexual, sometimes nude or semi-nude and is ultimately involved in a scene that depicts a rape.
No amount of 12-year-old intelligence, maturity or talent should be asked to embrace the complex emotion that has to be associated with playing a rape victim, albeit via a carefully planned camera angle. Even Jodie Foster, as an adult, claimed to black out during filming of the scenes involving the gang rape of her character in The Accused.
Not surprisingly, Kempmeier had trouble getting the film financed and seems annoyed that Hollywood was not willing to jump on the child-rape bandwagon. She also expresses her naiveté to the amount of controversy and public outcry such a depiction would arouse. This brings me to the most disturbing pronouncement made by Kempmeier during her interview with writer Henry Cabot Beck: “I was naïve — I had no idea this would come.” Really. No clue? Unconscionable.
Let me be your moral compass for a moment, Ms. Kempmeier. As an adult, responsible for directing a child in a scene that is by its very definition controversial, your lack of awareness as to the ramifications is inexplicable. At the very least, rather than going forward with a cockamamie defense, the more appropriate course of action would have been to develop a mindfulness of the inevitable public reaction and responding to the public in kind.
To let Kempmeier off the hook for a moment, there are others involved in Fanning’s career that have a little more explaining to do. From the sounds of it, Fanning’s mother and agent are punch-drunk with Oscar fever, and may not have been exercising sound decision making skills when they allowed her to do the film. If Fanning does not win an Academy Award until the ripe old age of 22, I think we, the movie-going public, will forgive her. The thought that Mother Fanning is enthralled by the rape scene and expresses excitement over its Oscar potential is distressing. Knowing that Mother Fanning was present during the shooting of the controversial scene provides no comfort whatsoever.
Finally, the child of infinite wisdom chimes in during an interview on the website CHUD, where Fanning belies her purported maturity and responds more like a 12-year-old when she says, “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.” The minutiae of dissimilarity is obviously lost on Dakota. I would not allow my children or anyone else's in my charge to watch a rape, real or imagined, on television.
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