CATEGORIES Movie NewsLast week, the trailer for the movie "Hick" debuted online. In it, the gun-toting Luli (Chloe Grace Moretz) -- all of 13 and oozing early-adolescent sexuality -- runs away from her parents by hitchhiking with a dangerously attractive young truck driver played by Eddie Redmayne.
Underage actors choosing to make edgy movies is nothing new -- from Jodie Foster and Brooke Shields to Dakota Fanning and Natalie Portman. Therefore, I don't think they "owe" it to audiences to do only tween-friendly flicks. If an adolescent star -- after guidance from her representation and (hopefully) parents -- wants to film "controversial" R-rated movies, that's their business.
Instead, audiences should be focusing their attention on the real danger, which is not with the films or the filmmakers or the eager young actresses playing these "controversial" roles -- it's with the marketers who capitalize on their popular stars to convince real-life kids that this is a movie they should check out.
I recently exchanged emails with my editor and friend Betsy Bozdech about "Hick," and she agreed that in and of itself, the movie doesn't pose any neon-flashing danger to the children of today. The danger is if/when a marketing director decides to sell a movie like "Hick" -- however subtly -- as a chance for tweens and teens to see a favorite actor in a role that's decidedly not targeted at them.
"I agree that it's not new -- I kept thinking of 'Lolita' and 'Taxi Driver' -- but I do think it's responsible for filmmakers and studios to market movies at appropriate audiences rather than whoever might be interested," she said.
That's the crucial difference: "Hick" is not thematically appropriate for young teens or tweens, even if they did love Moretz in "Hugo" (or Blake Lively from "Gossip Girl" for that matter). The same goes for Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning in "The Runaways."
Nevertheless, that reasoning didn't stop me from cringing when I heard two middle-school Twihards discuss the fact that Robert Pattinson stars in "Cosmopolis," which debuts at the Cannes Film Festival this May. I wanted to interrupt their conversation and tell them that there was no way that Don De Lillo's novel (adapted by David Cronenberg, no less!) was appropriate for them, even if they were Pattinson's biggest fans. But they weren't my daughters or nieces or friends, just two girls at the Barnes and Noble.
So what can we do? It's not the industry's place to censor filmmakers or force teen actors to make only PG-rated projects. As for marketers, they will do what they're paid to do to help boost a film's opening revenues -- as abhorrent as that is when it comes to certain movies.
For parents, as Betsy points out, the answer is simple: be informed, watch trailers, read reviews, don't say "Yes" to an evening out at the movies unless you know exactly what your teens are going to see, even if that means asking them about the movie afterward.
"In this day and age of all-the-time media and nonstop marketing, I think parents need to play a role in being aware/informed and taking the opportunity to talk about these issues and situations with their teens," Betsy added.
"Ask questions about what makes someone a good role model and why studios might be trying to sell controversial products to kids and teens. It's like making lemonade out of lemons; make teaching moments out of tough situations."
Hidden Messages in Kids Movies
Gallery | Most Ridiculous 'Hidden Messages' In Kids Movies
"The Little Mermaid"The first of many Disney films that have been accused of putting subliminal sex messages into their projects. In "Mermaid," the moment in question happens during a wedding scene, when the priest appears to get a little too excited. However, according to the animators, what viewers were seeing were actually the man's stubby knees bending. The alleged sexual reference prompted a lawsuit against Disney that was eventually dropped.
"The Muppets"It took only two weeks before conservative critics began perpetrating the idea that the recently released "Muppets" movie was a vehicle used to brainwash your children into being anti-oil and anti-one-percent. Of course, it's no surprise that Miss Piggy got the last laugh on that.
"Toy Story 3"The near-unanimous praise for this Pixar sequel did not include the feminist publication Ms. magazine, who called the film sexist: "Out of seven new toy characters at the daycare where the majority of the narrative takes place, only one is female."
"Snow White and the Seven Dwarves"Another film that falls under the "sexist" category. The scene in question has Snow White stumbling upon the Dwarves cabin, where her first instinct is to start cleaning -- something that did not go over well with some feminists.
"Shrek the Third"True, health food advocates were more upset at Shrek being used in an anti-obesity campaign than the film itself, but what got them riled up in the first place was the product placement in "Shrek the Third," which included companies such as Snickers, M&M's, Sierra Mist, Fruit Loops and more.
"The Lion King"This episode of Disney sex conspiracies involves everyone's favorite Shakespeare adaptation, "The Lion King." During the film, there's a scene where Simba looks off into the night sky and sees what appears to be the word "SEX" scrawled in stars. However, the animators stated that it actually says "SFX," standing for special effects. Here's the picture, so judge for yourself.
"The Witches"Although this controversy mainly involved the Roald Dahl book the film was based on, complaints against "The Witches" holds true for both mediums. Groups accused Dahl of being sexist because all the witches were female, to which the author responded, "There is no such thing as a male witch. On the other hand, a ghoul is always a male."
"Wall-E"Conservative critics lambasted "Wall-E" for its liberal stance. As National Review columnist Shannen W. Coffin stated, "From the first moment of the film, my kids were bombarded with leftist propaganda about the evils of mankind. It's a shame, too, because the robot had promise."
"Rango"To some, it was a film about a quirky chameleon; to others, it was a vehicle for pro-tobacco lobbyists. Smoke-free organizations criticized "Rango" for its excessive use of smoking to the point where the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California-San Francisco even tried -- and failed -- to get the MPAA to slap an R rating on the movie.
"The Lorax"Another film that has drawn the ire of Fox News. Last week, Fox Business' Lou Dobbs blasted "The Lorax" for its liberal agenda, claiming that the studio created the film to push "eco-friendly products" and that "the President's liberal friends in Hollywood [are] targeting a younger demographic using animated movies to sell their agenda to children."