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Fanning's role stirs controversy

January 11, 2007|Scott Martelle | Times Staff Writer

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 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. Brooke Shields' virginity was auctioned in Louis Malle's "Pretty Baby" (1978) and Jodie Foster famously played a prostitute in Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" (1976). Both 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.

Fanning is already an experienced actress, with 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 advocacy group, the Christian Film & Television Commission. Although he hasn't seen the film he is calling on movie distributors to reject it and report the filmmakers to legal authorities.

The movie has the first of four Sundance screenings Jan. 22.

"It's pedophilia," Baehr said Wednesday. "There should be a sense of outrage about it."

Responded Kampmeier: "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."

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