Child star Dakota Fanning, best known for her roles in films like 'Charlotte's Web' is in the middle of a controversy over a rape scene in her latest film 'Hounddog'.
The 12-year-old actress portrays a girl called Lewellen, who is raped by a teenager.
The hard-hitting movie written and directed by Deborah Kampmeier, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Tuesday, has been surrounded by complaints, with protests beginning before the festival.
The Catholic League, one of the protesting groups, has urged the US Department of Justice to investigate the film for possible violation of child pornography laws.
"It matters not a whit whether Fanning's mother, along with Fanning's teacher/child welfare worker, gave their consent," said the league's president William Donahue, who admitted he had not seen the film.
"What matters is whether they are an accessory to a crime."
"Five or six years ago this girl was on a tricyle. There has to be some line of decency which Hollywood will not cross."
Although the movie was filmed in North Carolina, where simulated sex with an underaged person is banned, a local district attorney has seen the film and decided that no crime was committed, reports the New York Times.
Kampmeier has defended her film at Sundance.
"The negative response to it is from people who haven't seen the film," she explained.
"People who have seen the film are actually very supportive of it."
The controversial scene reportedly occurs in darkness, with flashes of lightning making Fanning's foot, hand, face, shoulders and neck visible. The character is heard screaming "Stop it!".
The writer/director explained that the scene, filmed with a limited crew on a closed set, is identical on the big screen to how it was shot.
"It's important for people to remember that when you are crafting a film, you are putting images next to each other," she told Reuters.
"It's not like we had Dakota acting out the rape, we didn't. Dakota and I were there together."
Fanning too defended the film, claiming that the controversy had been "blown out of proportion".
"There are so many untrue things out there," she said.
"I just choose to not let those bother me and just think about what I know is true. I just love the movie and hope that everyone can see it and learn something from it," she added.
"I'm not going through anything like that, it's just my character. It's just another scene and wasn't any different from anything else I've done," the actress said.
"It's not a rape movie," she added. "That's not even the point of the film."
In the film, set in the '50s south Lewellen faces abuse from her father, but she seeks solace in blues music. It's on the way to buy tickets for an Elvis Presley concert that she's accosted by the teenager.
According to Kampmeier opposition the rape scene was one of the main reasons it took her 10 years to make the film, but she was unwilling to remove it from the script.
"This issue is so silenced in our society. There are a lot of women who are alone with this story," she explained.
She also emphasised that the scene, which was filmed in the presence of Fanning's mother/agent Joy, was created through editing rather than interaction between the actors.
"When you're shooting a film, it's the images you line up next to each other that create a story," Kampmeier explained.
"If you have a hand hitting the ground, Dakota screaming 'stop' and you see a zipper unzip, that creates a rape."
Tatum O'Neal, the former child star who won an Oscar for 'Paper Moon' at the age of 10, has defended Dakota's decision.
"I think it's her parent's decision. I think she is a real actress, she really is an actress."
"I think she's probably very smart and she probably looked and the script and said that she felt it was okay for her to do as an actress. I think it's okay," added O'Neal, although she admitted she wouldn’t have permitted her own daughter, who is 15, to make the film.
This report from iAfrica shows how quickly some groups will jump at the chance to protest. Hopefully, they will at least view the film before jumping to further conclusions.