AMC Chains Up Hounddog

AMC Theatres has pulled Hounddog from its screens after pro-family groups protested the film, which depicts the rape of a nine-year-old girl, played by then-12-year-old actress Dakota Fanning.

Hounddog also features Fanning's character dancing suggestively in her underwear and promising a young boy a kiss in exchange for exposing himself to her.  It hit theaters last weekend in limited release and will receive a wider release on October 3.

AMC has 353 theaters that contain a total of 5,117 screens. 

Many people would call such a film child pornography, but according to Deborah Kampmeier, writer and director of Hounddog, Fanning's character “is simply and innocently experiencing and relishing the aliveness of her being, the life force pulsing through her body, celebrating the power and creative force of her sexuality that is her birthright.”

Donna Miller, director of the No More Child Porn campaign and a Concerned Women for America chapter leader in North Carolina, where Hounddog was filmed, stated, “Much has been made about the rape scene regarding lighting – indicating that it was done in taste, etc. But there is no doubt that Fanning's character asked a boy to expose himself, that she would give him a kiss for doing so, and had done so with other boys. What does this tell other little girls?"

Ted Baehr of the Christian Film and Television Commission launched a boycott against Hounddog, and said, “These despicable movies promote pedophilia, whether intentionally or unintentionally.  There should be a massive public outcry against them.  The inclusion of children in sexually explicit films is inappropriate.  There is also no excuse for the authorities to allow such material to be shown publicly.”

Reviews of the film have not been kind but, disturbingly, many critics hail Fanning's role in Hounddog.   

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “Dakota Fanning takes an impressive step forward in her career.”  The New York Times's Jeannette Catsoulis called Fanning's performance “astonishing.”   Entertainment Weekly's Lisa Schwartzbaum said the actress is “remarkably collected and even dignified.”  Todd McCarthy noted in Variety, “the performers, and Fanning especially, bring color and energy to the characters.”  James Greenburg wrote in a rare positive review of the film in The Hollywood Reporter, “Fanning projects a strange mix of innocence and awareness.  The triumph of her performance is her ability to turn it on and off in the same scene.” 

Reviews that praise young actresses for taking roles such as these lower the standard for all other young, aspiring actresses, putting more at risk of exploitation.

Former child actor Paul Peterson,  director of the child actor advocacy group A Minor Consideration,  wrote in 2006 when the news of Hounddog first broke, that “for a gifted child actor asked to portray a difficult emotionally loaded scene over time there is NO difference between reality and pretend.  In order to convince an audience to suspend disbelief, you must, internally, believe utterly in the character and event you are portraying.” 

Kudos to AMC for standing up to Hollywood.  And shame on film critics who applaud young actresses who take sexualized roles. 

Colleen Raezler is a research assistant at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.