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Not In Your Best Interest, Dakota Fanning!

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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.

Or at the movies.

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About Kathy Scovill

  • Miss Kathy- I appreciate your concern with the not yet teenaged actress, but I’m not sure I see the problem. What is the damage to Miss Fanning that you fear? Are you supposing that she’s going to see the film and feel like she really was raped? What harm do you think this is going to do her, precisely?

  • No, Al I do not fear that Dakota Fanning will think she was raped if she views the film. What I do fear is that a child is being exploited for the sake of filmmaking. I fear that there are no controls put in place to limit the type of sexually suggestive scene’s a child actor is involved in. I fear that while we would prosecute and punish a person for photographing children under the age of 15 in varying states of undress and displaying them on the internet, we take a laissez faire attitude when the child is a celebrity involved in a film project. I fear that what piques our curiosity and will undoubtedly draw viewers to the film is the voyeuristic intent of seeing a rape scene involving a 12-year-old girl. The exact problem I have with this scenario is that Dakota Fanning is a child, entitled to the same protections we allow any child. She doesn’t have the mental capacity and decision making skills to determine for herself if she has the maturity to handle a rape re-enactment. She can’t even drive a car for godsake. Imagine that conversation for a moment. “Dakota, mommy wants to ask you a question about an upcoming film project. Do you think you would be interested in a film that involves a simulated rape?” “Sure, mommy, that would be great for my acting career, no more family movie-making for me.” “Great, hon, it’s got Oscar written all over it.”

  • defan

    There was no nudity and we will only see her face.

    What’s your opinion on the the 1996 film Bastard Out Of Carolina which shows a child rape more graphically?

  • I shivered as I read this article because I cannot believe it. As the father of a little girl, I am pretty shocked by the disregard of Dakota’s mental (and perhaps physical) well-being in making this film.

    In every day life, the rape of a twelve year old (boy or girl) is a horrendous crime. I know it happens, but why sensationalize it in such a way. If the rape is a key moment in the story, let it occur off stage (like when Oedipus blinds himself). What we can imagine is far worse than what we can see.

    In the end Ms. Fanning’s acting skills (which are formidable) would bring the horror of the rape out much more than showing it on screen in such an unnecessary manner.

  • Miss Kathy- You talk about a lack of industry “controls” over sexual storylines with children. That’s a little thing called the First Amendment.

    I appreciate concern over the welfare of children- but your answer still does not tell us any kind of harm that you think might come to Miss Dakota from her participation. You object to the supposed voyeurism of an audience wanting to see the film – which might be a legitimate criticism of some members of whatever audience this movie ultimately draws. But how does this even potentially harm the girl?

    Most particularly, I vociferously reject your comparisons of such a thing as this movie scene to child pornography. That’s an utterly bogus and inflammatory comparison. The girl certainly isn’t being penetrated. It’s a totally different scenario. Kiddie porn is simply a documentation of molestation. This is just artistic play acting.

    YOU might decide not to take comfort from Mom’s presence during the filming of this scene- but YOUR comfort isn’t the issue here. I would imagine that it would be a significant point of comfort to the girl, having Mom right there if things got a little scary.

    Victor- Likewise, I appreciate your fatherly concern – but what exactly is the danger to the actresses well-being that her parents and the filmmakers are supposedly ignoring?

    Would either of you have the same objection to Jodie Foster’s famous role in Taxi Driver? I can appreciate how that made some folks uncomfortable, but Scorcese had a pretty good argument for artistic necessity there.

    That role clearly catapulted young Jodie from a run of the mill kiddie star to serious budding adult actress. They couldn’t have made that movie without that representation, and they couldn’t have effectively used an adult in the role.

    Surely, many 12 year old girls couldn’t handle such a role. It would take more mature professionalism than you could reasonably expect out of an average young woman. But Jodie Foster and Dakota Fanning are not average girls.

    Perhaps, rather than presuming to call for blanket laws or enforced standards against artistic expressions of these dark corners of human behavior because they make YOU uncomfortable, we’re best to rely on the judgment of the girl and her guardians as such situations come up.

  • Evan

    I agree wholeheartedly with Al.

  • I agree that it is not in anyone’s best interest to involve young actors in roles or situations that push the acting envelope into exploitation, as depicting a rape scene with a child clearly does.

    Decisions are always made in film as to what is shown, what is intimated, and what creative or political damage control will be necessary after those decisions are made. The idea to go ahead with the rape scene is an exploitative one which will, undoubtedly, bring in more of the curious. Just wait for the unrated version of the DVD, too. Didn’t see enough the first time? Want more sordid action? Just get the 2-disc set with all the revealing extras.

    Artistic expression does not equate to full freedom to explore all avenues of that expression, and the first amendment does not premiate unbounded speech and action. Discretion, common-sense, and limiting bad-taste decisions are always part of the creative process.

    I also see a growing trend in horror films where children are being put into exploitative situations of torture, or being the next zombie-fodder. I’m not thrilled with that, either.

  • Al, the First Ammendment does not provide protection for the use of child actors in “sexual storylines”. At least not the last time I checked.

    The litmus test for whether a visual medium (including film) qualifies as child pornography is not whether a child is penetrated. On that point you seem to be misinformed. It’s all part of a little thing known as Federal Code. Here’s a little excerpt to bring you up to speed:

    Title 18 of the United States Code governs child pornography. See Chapter 110, Sexual Exploitation and Other Abuse of Children. 18 U.S.C. § 2256 defines “Child pornography” as:

    “any visual depiction, including any photograph, film, video, picture, or computer or computer-generated image or picture, whether made or produced by electronic, mechanical, or other means, of sexually explicit conduct, where –

    (A) the production of such visual depiction involves the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct;
    (B) such visual depiction is, or appears to be, of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct;
    (C) such visual depiction has been created, adapted, or modified to appear that an identifiable minor is engaging in sexually explicit conduct; or
    (D) such visual depiction is advertised, promoted, presented, described, or distributed in such a manner that conveys the impression that the material is or contains a visual depiction of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct . . .”

    Obviously someone other than myself feel that harm can be done if a child under the age of consent is involved in the above described situations. Note, that no penetration need be involved.

    Had I not been 5-years-old when Jodi Foster appeared in Taxi Driver, I might have had more to say about that. Who knows, I was fairly mature and intelligent at that age…I may have been pivotal in advocating for change. Just because something has been done before, doesn’t mean it should be done again.

    Not once in either the article or my previous comments did I express discomfort regarding the subject matter. Indeed, this may be a very valid story that needs telling. My expression of discomfort was toward the ability of Dakota Fanning’s mother to make sound decisions for her child and would therefore not serve as an effective advocate for her on the set. I feel discomfort with the exploitation of children, for the sake of storytelling, but not necessarily with the story itself. Just to clarify.

    As for the violent rape scene involving Jena Malone in Bastard Out of Carolina, both of these films were shot in Wilmington, NC which boasts no child labor laws. A fact I find telling.

  • Ms. Fanning’s well-being is more than violated here because her parents and anyone else involved were worried about her rights as an actress and ignored her rights as a child. Maybe somewhere it is okay for a 12 year old girl to be subjected to the concept of rape (hell, in some countries girls are being sold at that age), but this is a violation of common human decency.

    No 12 year old (boy or girl) should sit through this scene let alone have to participate in it. It seems that Ms. Fanning’s parents might be advised to examine Jodie Foster’s feelings about how difficult it was to “act” a rape scene as an adult.

    We cannot imagine how much pyschological damage this can inflict on Ms. Fanning now and in the future. However, we do know that this is the kind of thing that can be avoided through some creative ways by the filmmakers. Once again, I state that the rape never had to be shown on film. The implication is there and the rape can happen off stage.

    Otherwise, this seems like purely exploitation of a pre-teen and a terrible way to send a message to nutcases out there who are just waiting for the DVD so they can watch the scene over and over and get some kind of thrill.

  • Again, I can appreciate some concern over what kind of things a young actor does on screen. But I have little patience for moral crusades on behalf of children. If you simply say that you’ve appointed yourself to help the children, as in this case, you’re no better than a demagogue like Bill O’Reilly.

    It’d be one thing to be concerned about child labor in the third world, trying to represent for poor powerless, anonymous children with little choice but to work in sweatshops. That might be a legitimate point of exploitation for an outsider to bitch about.

    But that completely doesn’t apply to Dakota Fanning, who is a professional actress of some experience and repute, as well as an obviously exceptionally intelligent young woman – already getting close to marrying and childbearing age. If SHE didn’t want to appear in such a movie, she wouldn’t.

    Victor seems to have appointed himself the moral czar with the authority to determine what kind of movies young people can see or participate in making. He has determined that Ms Fanning’s “rights as a child” have been violated.

    Note the dichotomy he draws between her “rights as an actress” vs her “rights as a child.” That is, he’s making a distinction between Dakota Fanning having a right to appear in whatever movie she wants to at HER decision, but instead posits that her “rights as a child” (ie HIS rights to say what she can and can’t do) should take precedence.

    I’m particularly unimpressed with Ms Scovill’s cavalier disregard for First Amendment issues. “the First Ammendment does not provide protection for the use of child actors in “sexual storylines”.” Really? What part of “Congress shall make no law” is ambiguous to you here?

    Indeed, now she’s gone so far as to define this scene – which none of us has actually seen – to be child pornography punishable under law, citing the statute. That right there is COMPLETE bullshit, not even a little bit defensible. In fact, I highly doubt that there will be any depiction of “sexually explicit conduct.”

    I find Ms Scovill’s speculations on the reaction that she might have had if she had been older at the time of Jodie Foster’s Taxi Driver performance to be very telling. “I may have been pivotal in advocating for change.” Ah, so it’s not really about a child’s welfare, but about her self-aggrandizement as a moral crusader. She apparently dreams of being Carry A Nation.

    There’s certainly plenty of room to legitimately argue about aesthetic principles as to what you think is good movie art. It would also be perfectly reasonable to say that you wouldn’t let your own underage daughter participate in such a movie. But you don’t get to make those decisions for the rest of US.

  • Yep, I’m a self aggrandizer, a Bill O’Reilly wannabe (ok, not really..but I’ll go with it), a free speech squasher, and bullshit spreader. I’ve been called worse. Do you live in Montana, Al? On a ranch with stockpiled ammunitions, buried below the compound? Watch out, big brother is watching.

  • Oh, and by the way Al, if you insist on portraying me as an axe-wielding female, I prefer Lizzie Borden. No one’s trying to stop you from drinking, my friend, so you can relax.

  • Miss Scovill, I recognize that it’s a harsh criticism to compare you to Bill O’Reilly, and I regret that necessary severity. However, the comparison to O’Reilly is fairly specific: He makes a great deal of his looking-out-for-you shtick from manufacturing cheesy crusades to save The Children – which is pretty much just about the level you’re working on in this story.

    And no, Lizzie Borden wouldn’t apply. Granted, she would be much cooler, but the point of the comparison is not specifically the axe but the moral crusading of Carry Nation. Lizzie Borden certainly wasn’t a crusader. You and Carry are.

    And you don’t see how your urge to forbid the representation on film of ideas that you don’t like constitutes squashing free speech? How could you NOT see that? Why, that’s not censorship – it’s just Common Decency!

  • Thank you, Kathy, for a voice of reason. I’m astonished at Dakota’s parents for their lack of common sense, greed, and disregard for their daughter.

  • otto

    Can we at least wait until we actually see the film before condemning it? This reminds me of the people who want to ban Harry Potter because it promotes witchcraft, but have never bothered to actually read the books.

    So how about if everyone just waits until the movie is released, so that an informed discussion can take place. I will admit that I was a bit shocked when I first found out that Dakota would be portraying a character who gets raped, but to be fair I’ll have to wait to see how the incident is actually portrayed on film before I get up in arms about it.

    I also read the article in Premier and according to the director all we see of Dakota during the rape scene is her face. That really doesn’t sound all that bad to me, although I have to admit that the idea that her character is being raped while we see her facial expressions does sound a bit disturbing. But again, I’ll have to wait until I actually see the film before I can have an informed opinion about it.


  • This movie stinks. How Joy Fanning could have watched this scene and been “proud” is beyond my comprehension. Dakota’s image has been irreparably damaged by this crapola film.

  • nugget

    Al, I agree with you alot, but not here.

    I’m not sure if I agree with either of you.

    There are two arguments, moral and political.

    Morally, it’s preposterous. Absolutely fucking looney. Ars gratis ars my ass. You don’t do this kind of shit. Any man with a dick and a conscience knows that you don’t do this. Imagine being in the room watching this. lights camera action! Cameramen, light guys, sound guys, lots of GUYS pretending to objectively watch a very very taboo representation of something that should STAY in dark corners, not be videotaped under false pretenses.

    Politically, I don’t really care. People will do what they do.

  • nugget

    This is just artistic play acting.

    that’s so bogus. It’s not “just” art. It’s Dakota fanning. A pretty little girl getting raped that millions of sick men will watch. That’s what it is. I’m all about being the cool iconoclast, but anyone who’s seen “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe” knows that any and all sex scenes can be implied very well, INCLUDING child RAPE scenes. I saw Taxi driver and was amazed that poor Jodi Foster was unknowingly being “artistic” according to some of you. Maybe she doesn’t even see anything bad about it, but I think it encourages us pig men to wonder as we wander. you follow?

    I call bullshit.

  • otto

    Perhaps some comments from someone who has actually seen the movie might help. From the LA Times:

    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.”

  • Melanie

    In regards to the above:
    “RAINN applauds the makers of ‘Hounddog’ for shedding light on the issue of sexual assault against our nation’s children”
    I wonder what RAINN’s policy ideals are on for children being exploited in the media?

  • Defan

    How about some comments from DAKOTA FANNING!
    Detroit Free Press, December 11, 2006

    “Fanning says that was just wrong information; she is clothed in the scene and says it caused her no trauma. “It’s a character, it’s not me, and I never, ever confuse the two, whether I’m playing someone who is good or bad or troubled or whatever. If I’m going to be the actress I want to be, I’ll have all kinds of films and all kinds of scenes.”

  • Hiedi

    I feel sorry for all these people who say “Oh she is dressed is ok”. I lost a playmate at the age of 5 who was raped and grusumely killed. Rape is not a joke and unless you have been a victum you have no clue what it does to a child. In my opinion her mother let her down in a worst way a mother could, Left her unprotected for what my come after this little Oscar deal. The mom is totally living through her kids that is sad. I have four girls I would never never compromise them in that manner. Shame on you MOM.

  • JR

    Given what child celebrities seem to be exposed to off-screen, I’d say being asked to film a rape scene is the least of her worries.

  • “RAINN applauds the makers of ‘Hounddog’ for shedding light on the issue of sexual assault against our nation’s children.”

    I see, so RAINN believes the appropriate way to “shed light” on horrific, evil things is to have 12-year-old girls act them out on film? Goody. So let’s make a RAINN-approved list of all the follow-up films Dakota should make in order to expose further evil in the world.

    I’ll start by casting her in a movie that “sheds light” on forced female circumcision. You go next…

  • otto

    Well, as I mentioned I haven’t seen the movie yet so it’s a bit difficult for me to have an honest informed opinion about it.

    So here’s a question concerning movies in general: there have been many movies depicting bad things happening to children, including abuse, bullying, neglect, teenage pregancy, poverty, murder, etc. Should these things never be depicted in a movie, even though they might, as RAINN stated, shed light on these issues? Rape is horrible, but so are all these other things. So is it just the idea of a rape scene specifically that is being objected to here, or does that apply to all those topics?

    For example, in the movie Hide and Seek, Robert DeNiro plays a psyhotic father who kills his wife at the beginning of the movie, and at the end tries to kill his daughter played by Dakota Fanning. Surely that would be just as traumatic to her character as being raped. So would the same objection apply to that movie?

  • Simon B.

    Thanks for your article. Non-adults shouldn’t act sexual/violent.

    If they get any prize for showing rape, then let’s write complaints and then BOYCOTT that prize.

    Consider suicide news. Years with much suicide news have a higher year total. For rape I don’t know, but I have no need to test if the statistics work out the same way.
    I think we need some censorship of mainstream media, for the sake of public health.

  • tim

    Ms Kathy

    Please dont fall into the pit of the people trying tp destroy dakota fanning and her family.Many of theses people are Christians.I am going to let you read the following scriptures from the old and new testement.We allow children to read and study this book and you can find it in most hotels and offices for anyone to pick up and to read.

    Genesis 19

    19:32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
    19:33 And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
    19:34 And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father. The Seduction of Lot
    19:35 And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
    19:36 Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father.

    Exodus 4

    24 At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met {Moses} and was about to kill him. 25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched {Moses’} feet with it.”Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,” she said. 26 So the LORD let him alone.(At that time she said “bridegroom of blood,” referring to circumcision.)

    Proverbs 5

    5:18 Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. 5:19 Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.
    5:20 And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger?

    Try to explain the previous verses to a child.Ask your self if your child read this in a bible while waiting in a dentist office what would they think.

    these are but a few of the many graphic and sexual readings you may find in the bibles. Remember children are read and taught this stuff.HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN THIS STUFF TO KIDS.I dont allow my kids to read the bible.It confuses them in so many ways .they used to ask me about all kinds of things they read in the bible or heard in church.Things I felt was to adult for them to understand.I fill that the bible is way to much for anybody under age 16 to read or understand.I dont allow my kid to pick up the bible anymore.

    The point is if you would allow your children to have a book with such adult sexual themes then dont pass judgment on dakota fanning or her family.

  • This just in vis-a-vis Dakota’s rape scene: It’s not so much. Neither is the film.

  • otto

    As people begin to actually see this movie, those who chose to condemn the makers of Hounddog before seeing it for themselves and getting all the facts straight are being shown for the idiots they truly are, many continuing to live in denial of the facts.

    Sean Hannity is perhaps the best example, as last Monday he interviewed someone who saw the movie at its premiere at Sundance. I forget the lady’s name, but I believe she was introduced as a conservative District Attorney and a child advocate for 30 years, so Hannity was a bit surprised when she revealed that all the negative claims about Dakota’s infamous rape scene simply aren’t true. According to her, all we see is Dakota from her shoulders on up and the guy’s arm. There is no touching, and the rape is actually achieved through editing tricks, and not on the set as some have claimed. She explained that it occurs more in the viewer’s mind than in the movie.

    But Hannity was not satisfied, claiming that what she saw was a “sanitized” version, and that he wanted to see everything that was left on the cutting room floor. Um, right, Sean. You haven’t seen the movie, you weren’t involved in the editing process, you weren’t involved in the production whatsoever, yet you somehow know what “really” went on. What a jackass.

    But probably the most disturbing evidence of these people’s dangerous mindset is what Catholic League president Bill Donohue, who is pushing for a federal investigation of the film to see if child pornography laws were being violated during shooting, said on CNN last Monday. He said that if this was not Dakota, but some unknown 12-year old actress who was involved in a rape scene, he wouldn’t even bother with it. Unbelievable.

    Obviously, this is all about exploiting Dakota’s popularity and success to push their agenda, and has nothing whatsoever to do with a 12-year old being raped onscreen.

    Finally, as reported by the Associated Press: Dakota herself sums it all up for us.

    “It’s not really happening,” Fanning said of the rape. “It’s a movie, and it’s called acting.”