LOS ANGELES – Precocious 12-year-old Dakota Fanning, star of the kids movie “Charlotte’s Web,” is as mad as she can be and is not going to take any more criticism about her latest role — a rape victim.
Fanning saw her newest movie “Hounddog” premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this week after months of complaints from religious groups and others who questioned whether her family and the film’s maker acted responsibly when asking her to act in a rape scene.
“When it gets to the point of attacking my mother, my agent … my teacher, who were all on the set that day, that started to make me mad,” she said in an interview.
“I can let other things go, but when people start to talk about my mother, like, that’s really bad in my opinion … that’s an attack, and that’s not fair. They hadn’t seen the movie,” she added.
Since the age of six, when Fanning appeared in an episode of U.S. television program “Ally McBeal,” her fan base has grown into millions of people around the world.
She has starred in Hollywood movies ranging from “The Cat in the Hat,” based on the Dr. Seuss children’s book about a magical cat, to Steven Spielberg’s “War of the Worlds,” in which she played a young girl on the run from space aliens.
But Fanning is now entering her teen-age years — she’ll be 13 in February — and like any girl or boy who is growing older and maturing, she finds herself attracted to new stories and roles she finds challenging and thought-provoking.
In “Hounddog,” Fanning plays 12-year-old Lewellen, who lives in a Deep South town in the 1950s. Her dysfunctional family is poor, and the household is run by her grandmother.
Lewellen loves Elvis Presley, and in order to get a ticket to his concert, she agrees to do her Elvis impersonation for an older teen-age boy. Eventually that scene leads to the rape.
“I loved the Elvis Presley story line. I loved the fact she’s born of hard circumstances and is trying to survive those,” Fanning said. “I like so many things about it that had nothing to do with being abused, or sexually abused.”
“Hounddog” is based on director Deborah Kampmeier’s personal history, and she called the criticism of Fanning’s decision to take the role an insult to the young actress.
“She should be applauded to the voice she has given to so many silenced women,” Kampmeier said.
Kampmeier called the Georgia-born Fanning an “old soul” who understood Lewellen’s thoughts and emotions from the moment the actress and director first discussed the part.
Fanning said she would tell her friends to see “Hounddog,” with their parents’ approval, because it addresses many topics they will either soon face or, perhaps, already have.
“I’m going to be a freshman in high school in September, and I think it would be irresponsible of my parents not to let me know of things that happen and to try not to get yourself in uncomfortable situations,” she said. “It’s educational.”
Fanning said she loves acting and wants to continue to into her teens and adulthood. She added that she does not pick parts with a career plan, such as making the transition from child actor to adult, which is often hard to do successfully.
As she talks, Fanning tries hard cover her teeth and hide her new braces. When told not to be shy because many adults went through the same issue with braces, she giggles. Then, she quickly brightens as she looks at Kampmeier.
“I know,” she says, “let’s make a movie about braces.”