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Child actors - Do they need protection from acting?

DakotaFanning.jpgThese past few weeks we've seen a lot of controversy raging about Dakota Fanning and her role in Hounddog, most of it is complete hysteria and fabrication as she is an actress acting in a role and she was acting scared and distressed, something she has done time and time again in roles.

However there was a bigger question raised about child actors, or actors who portray roles for films that are aimed at a much older audience than them. Fanning is acting in a film that is meant for an audience much older than herself, and the role itself demands a much older and wiser performance than her physical age, should she be allowed to? Should child actors be allowed to act in films where their role, the content of the film and the film rating are for an older audience?

There is no doubt that Fanning is an amazing actress already, even at her age she is out performing those much older and she seems to be loving it, but is she understanding it and is she able to cope with it all?

When she is acting in a film that would receive a viewing certificate greater than her age, should she be allowed to? Should she in fact be restricted to act in films that she could legally watch?

Are we perhaps just being a bit too controlling and nanny-ish here? She is an actor, and if she can understand what that means and she is protected from harm in her acting scenes then does it matter? If the finalised film is a certificate that meant she couldn't watch it, does that matter if her individual scenes protect her from that higher rated content? After all editing and effects can make just about anything happen on screen.

If we did start restricting the work child actors did then who would play children in films? How could we have seen such a brilliant film in The Sixth Sense without Haley Joel Osment giving us that superb performance at age eleven in a film that is rated around the world from PG to 18.

Should we take a step back and ensure that the parents, managers and the filmmakers on the film are adult and responsible enough to look after the child actor? After all one of them could surely take advantage, but all of them? Bear in mind for filmmakers we're talking casting, producers, director and the studio themselves.

Do child actors need protection from acting? It's perhaps true that they need protection from Hollywood and fame, after all there are many stories of child actors falling fowl of the trappings of fame, but then so many more adults do too, and this in itself is not a reason to restrict child actors from acting.

There is also the question of when a child actor becomes an actor. If they were only allowed to act in films that reflected their age, then when do they have the rights of a grown actor? Not until they are 18? Do we then stop showing anyone under 18 in an 18 film?

Frankly I think it all starts to get too controlling, too hand holding and too much of a nanny state. This is starting to sound like we should be telling someone elses child what they can and can't deal with in their own mind, and not considering their own thoughts and feelings or their parents parental skills, or the dozens of other people around them looking after their interests as well as their own reputations.

What do you think? How do you feel about child actors? Should they be restricted to only films they themselves could watch? When does a child actor become an actor with the ability to decide these things for themselves? Do child actors need more protection from fame and Hollywood rather that the acting itself, or are those around them and close to them the ones who should be helping them make decisions and not the audience?



Of course not. I've haven't been on a movie set, but I was once on the set of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and shooting a scene is so incredibly different from seeing the scene in it's final form that it's not even funny. It's all so staged and fake looking due to what's happening just outside camera range that it feels totally make believe.

Child actors need protection from the predatory Hollywood system that chews them up and spits them out once they've gotten "too old". The transition from child actor to adult actor is very rare and difficult. Most of the horror stories about child actors involve what happens *outside* the movie set, not on it.


I remember similar questions being asked (although this was pre-Internet days so the questions weren't being quite so widely asked) about Kirsten Dunst vis-a-vis Interview with the Vampire and what sort of psychological damage it might do her having to play the child vampire Claudia. Doesn't seem to have harmed her that much in the long run so far.

It´s the same old debate: reality is not fiction, and children do know that perfectly. And some of the best actors started at child age (Elizabeth Taylor, Leo DiCaprio, Jodie Foster).

The show business is what it is. Take it or leave it. If Dakota Fanning accepted this role, what´s the problem?

Remember the Night of The Hunter. Those two children were chased by a psychopath, Robert Mitchum. And they delivered fantastic performances.

Does people want children to be replaced by FX or robots? Or does people want that movies (as an art expression) will not deal with troublesome issues?

That, to me, is censorship. And that, to me, is incompatible with cinema.

All of the points raised by Richard and those who have posted before me are valid. And I may be accused of not answering the issue raised but I guess there is no need for me to expound on that now but I am coming from a different angle here.

Without wanting to cast the stone on anybody as to who is responsible for allowing child actors perform acting that is beyond their age, then I suppose that the decision to watch any of these films that allow these types of performances, in this case Fanning's Hounddog, should be left to the audience themselves. I have never had an issue watching Haley Joel Osment (The Sixth Sense) or Kirsten Dunst (Interview with the Vampire) because come on, that's just acting, and until Richard pointed it it out, it just didnt click to me that the very same films that these child actors were in, they are not even of legal age to watch it themselves. Saying that this is not my place to say whether protection is required for these ones, we here a lot of exploitation going on and sad so say some of them involve the child actor's parents themselves.


I was just listening to Filmspotting Podcast out of Chicago and they were covering Sundance. They said Hounddog is absolutely horrible movie. They hate everyminute of it.

Not even talking about the "controversial" scene. They just said the movie itself is an incoherent mess.

Unfortunately for your pet theories, reality contradicts them. Children have less of an understanding of fact vs. fantasy than adults by nature. They are also more heavily involved in that fantasy when it's their job to act it out. While they can be protected from some of the effects of hard, traumatic scenes of sex and violence, there is a limit.

Also; child actors have to understand what's going on to perform their roles. All this can expose them to situations and concepts that they're not yet equipped to accept or evaluate properly... like enacting sex with adult actors! The recent testimony of a number of former child stars reveals that, if anything, the effects of "adult" themes in their roles can have even a longer and harsher emotional impact than previously thought.

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