Everyone is buzzing about Dakota Fanning's rape scene in the film "Hounddog," which just had its Sundance premiere. The scene in question is only a few minutes and contains no nudity, is very darkly lit and only Fanning's face and hand are shown. Fanning herself is incredibly articulate in describing her work on the film -- she gets that it's not real:
"It's not really happening," Fanning said of a rape. "It's a movie, and it's called acting. I'm not going through anything. Cody and Isabelle aren't going through anything, their characters are."
"And for me, when it's done it's done," she said. "I don't even think about it anymore."
Is it any surprise who is the most outraged? According to the AP story, Roman Catholic activist Bill Donohue called for a boycott and Ted Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission and publisher of the Web site movieguide.org, claims "Hounddog" breaks federal child-pornography law. How interesting that someone from the Catholic Church and a conservative evangelical Christian would be so uncomfortable with the depiction of a girl being raped in the deep South. The Catholic church has been ravaged by the clergy sex abuse scandals of the past several years -- causing many of its faithful to defect over the church's active role in covering up these cases and not punishing the perpetrators. And is it me or whenever there is a scandal involving evangelical leaders, it almost always involves sex - most recently it was The Rev. Ted Haggard who was exposed for engaging in gay sex and meth use? The culture of sexual repression in both the Catholic church and many evangelical communities has a way of making its leaders obsessed with preaching about sex, mostly as sin (when outside of marriage or not heterosexual) with grave consequences. It also has a way of leading religious conservatives of any faith to act out sexually in unhealthy ways.
I haven't seen "Hounddog," but I did see "Bastard Out of Carolina," "The Accused," and "Boys Don't Cry." All of which feature incredibly disturbing rape scenes that were tough to sit through. But in a country where in 2004-2005, there were an estimated 200,780 victims of rape, attempted rape or sexual assault and about 44% of the rape victims were under age 18, I think it's important to raise awareness about the horror of these crimes and the long term effects they have on their victims. Everything I've read about this scene indicates that Fanning was not exploited and that the scene strings together non-explicit images to convey what happened. I would love to hear about these Christian communities screening films like "Bastard Out of Carolina" or "Hounddog" and attempting to talk to their congregants about sexual abuse in the home or acquaintance rape or date rape, reinventing these churches as safe spaces for victims to find support instead of having to suffer in silence.