Chloë Moretz, Hick

Phase 4 Films

I just saw the trailer for Hick, where Chloë Moretz packs a gun and looks like jailbait. Why must adolescent actresses take hyper-sexualized roles to prove they're ready for grown up parts?
—G. Best, via the inbox

Don't stop there. A 12-year-old Dakota Fanning got movie-raped in Hounddog; young Jodie Foster played a child prostitute in short shorts in Taxi Driver; Brooke Shields got naked for Pretty Baby at age 12; even Natalie Portman, who prides herself on no-nudity work, came very close to Lolita territory in The Professional.

So is seeing Moretz, now 15, packing a pistol and a bare midriff in Hick reason to launch a pearl-clutching Save the Moppets campaign? Not necessarily:

At first, it really does seem like child actresses need to take edgy, sexual parts to rebrand themselves.

But not really.

For every Fanning or Moretz, there's a Kristen Stewart: Her early work as a pre-teen actor involved tomboy parts in The Safety of Objects and Foster's The Panic Room.

Yes, at 13, she played a teen rape victim in the film Speak, but it was not a sexy or exploitative role. She was best known as an indie/art thriller type kid actor before Twilight came along.

And there are plenty of other young actresses whose role may deal in some way with sex, but aren't necessary the kind of exploitation you may be talking about. Would you call Abigail Breslin's hilarious "burlesque" performance in Little Miss Sunshine as titillating? What about the roles played by Saoirse Ronan in Atonement or The Lovely Bones? She was 13 when she shot that; not exactly Lolita.

"Most parents of child actors won't expose their child" to sexualized or potentially exploitative roles, says Paula Dorn, co-founder of BizParentz Foundation, which supports families of children working in show business. "That's not what most parents want for their children."

In fact, Dorn points out, "most child actors don't even have much of a choice" on which role they'll take next, much less their pick of gigs that let them re-brand themselves whenever they think they're ready.

Hollywood child labor law expert Toni Casala, of Children in Film, agrees.

"Every now and then a controversial role is offered to a young performer," she tells me, "but not as often as you think."

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