Film's rape scene with 12-year-old actress called pornography

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — She says she's an actress who is able to handle such mature material, but people are concerned that the feigned rape of 12-year-old Dakota Fanning in the new film "Hounddog" amounts to child pornography.

"It is unclear whether federal child pornography statutes have been broken in the course of filming this movie," Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, said Jan. 18. "It matters not a whit whether Fanning's mother, along with Fanning's teacher/child welfare worker, gave their consent. What matters is whether they are an accessory to a crime."

Donahue asked Andrew Oosterbaan, chief of the Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section within the U.S. Department of Justice's Criminal Division, to investigate the matter. Federal statutes on child pornography define a minor as anyone younger than 18, Donahue noted, and Fanning is a pre-teen.

"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," Donahue said. "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."

Hounddog premiered Jan. 22 at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah and has stirred controversy nationwide. Fanning, who also starred in "Charlotte's Web" and "War of the Worlds," plays Lewellen, a sexually promiscuous young girl who lives in a broken home in the rural South during the 1950s. Though several scenes involving Fanning are sexual, the most brutal is when she is raped by an older boy who tempts her with tickets to an Elvis concert.

"There were so many stories I needed to tell in Hounddog, about motherlessness, the cycle of abuse, the triumph of this girl's spirit, and the power of female sexuality," Deborah Kampmeier, the film's writer-director, told Premier magazine.

For years no sponsors would take on the film because they knew the rape scene would draw much criticism, but Kampmeier believed the scene was part of the character's journey and could not be removed or even implied. She finally pulled together the funds for her independent film, and it could soon be playing in theaters nationwide.

Paul Petersen, a former child actor who played Donna Reed's son on the 1960s sitcom, joins Donahue in calling for an investigation. He told The New York Times that Fanning never should have been allowed to play the victim in a rape scene, no matter how much she wanted to or how sensitively it was filmed. He added that her doing so violated the letter of federal child pornography laws.

"Nothing excuses it," Petersen, now an advocate for child actors, said. "The plain cold fact is that this is illegal, the statutes are what they are, and Hollywood chose to ignore it."

Kampmeier told Premiere that Fanning was not exposed to anything on the set that could leave her with emotional scars.

"The scene was never run through from start to finish; it was shot in increments, over and over, never in a single take," Kampmeier said. "The construction creates the impression of the violence but doesn't represent the feeling on the set or something that might have traumatized Dakota, especially since there had been so much rehearsal."

Cindy Osbrink, Fanning's agent since she was 5 years old, told Premier the role of Lewellen was "something that really challenged her talent."

"Hounddog was one of the best experiences of her life, a story that needs to be told, and she tells it with her soul as no one else can," Osbrink said.

Fanning told The Times that people should realize she is growing up and is going to be taking on more complex characters.

"You know, I'm an actress," she said. "It's what I want to do. It's what I've been so lucky to have done for almost seven years now. And I am getting older. February 23 is my birthday, and I'll be 13 years old. And I will be playing different kinds of roles."

She added that anyone who sees the film would understand that the rape scene is not the point of the movie, and she would rather people discuss actual child rape rather than a simulated act.

"There are so many children that this happens to every second," Fanning told The Times. "That's the sad part. If anyone's talking about anything, that's what they should be talking about."

On the Fox News show "Hannity & Colmes" Jan. 19, co-host Sean Hannity interviewed actress Janine Turner about the rape scene in Hounddog.

"I think to have to put a 12-year-old child into a rape scene in a movie is not even a necessity," Turner said. "I think it's ludicrous. It's not even essential."

Turner added that society is suffering from a saturating amount of violence on television and in movies, and she thinks Hollywood should make a rule that no one under age 18 is allowed to be filmed naked or placed in scenes that are compromising or sexually graphic.

"I think a union rule could be quite helpful," Turner said, "because it takes the decision away from the child and the mother that a child under the age of 18 can't be in the scenes."