Film About Child Rape Becomes a Cause

Pegged as "Dakota Fanning Rape Movie," film opens two years after Sundance.

ByABC News
September 18, 2008, 4:57 PM

Sept. 19, 2008— -- It became known as the "Dakota Fanning rape movie."

Hijacked by controversy for the one scene in which Dakota Fanning's 12-year-old character is sexually assaulted by a teenager, the movie "Hounddog" finally lands in theaters today, nearly two years after it was first screened at the Sundance Film Festival.

The controversy was brought on by a disgruntled producer who went to the media before shooting wrapped with a false report that Fanning was naked in the film and had shot a graphic rape scene. That night, CNN was asking its viewers whether a 12-year-old actress should be doing a rape scene.

Soon after, the film was being debated by Sean Hannity and protested by evangelical groups, including the Catholic League, which urged the Justice Department to investigate whether any child pornography laws had been broken.

"I was totally thrown off by it. I had no idea it was coming," said Deborah Kampmeier, the film's writer and director, about the media storm. "I was not making this film to create controversy and social commentary. I was writing this story from my heart, in hopes that it would touch someone else's heart."

The film, a Southern gothic tale set in 1959, is about a motherless 12-year-old girl named Lewellen who finds solace in the music of Elvis Presley. In exchange for two tickets to a Presley concert, she agrees to do a seductive dance for a teenager who robs of her innocence.

Kampmeier asked the district attorney's office in Wilmington, NC, where the film was shot, to do its own investigation. After viewing the film and interviewing cast and crew, the DA found no grounds for prosecution, she said.

In the completed film, the rape scene lasts less than one minute. To shoot it, Kampmeier said there was no simulation of a sex act. Instead she shot closeups of faces, hands and feet. She stood a foot away from Fanning's face and told her when to hold her breath, when to gasp.

"I have a daughter, I am a daughter, I care about the soul of girls," Kampmeier said. "If Dakota had been harmed in any way, if this had been exploitative, it would have betrayed the reason I made this film."