Dogged by controversy

Theaters refuse to screen "Hounddog," the Dakota Fanning rape film.

Published September 26, 2008 9:48PM (EDT)

God willing, this will be the first and last time in my journalism career that I begin a phone interview with the phrase, "I want to verify something I read in the National Enquirer with you."

Unfortunately, the Enquirer had its story (sort of) right.

"Hounddog," a coming-of-age film about an adolescent girl in the South during the '50s (starring Dakota Fanning and Robin Wright Penn), will not be screened by the large movie theater chains -- not quite 5,117 theaters like the Enquirer reports but enough to severely limit its release. The film has been quite controversial because of its portrayal of a sexual assault on Fanning's character, a scene that is less than a minute long. Even during filming in North Carolina, the local conservative group of Concerned Women for America kicked up a fuss about the film's content, and controversy dogged the film during its 2007 Sundance debut.

"The critics really killed us and Concerned Women for America put the nail in the coffin," said the defeated-sounding writer/director, Deborah Kampmeier, at home Thursday morning. "We have lost all of our theaters." "Hounddog" was supposed to roll out in 10 cities this week and 20 cities next week, but Kampmeier said her distributor has informed her that theater chains are backing off. As of now, the film will be screened this weekend at two small arthouse theaters: at the Roxy in Philadelphia and at Cinema Village in New York City.

Indeed, critics have pooh-poohed the film as a "minstrel show" of black characters or a "cliché" of the South, Kampmeier said. But after every screening, she says, she also hears from men and women who are touched by the film's honest portrayal of a young girl's burgeoning sexuality and her dampened spirit following a rape. She says she hopes word-of-mouth will keep "Hounddog" in art-house theaters, at least.

By Jessica Wakeman

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