Would You Have a Problem with 14-Year-Old Hailee Steinfeld Getting Naked for ‘Romeo and Juliet’?

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Britain’s The Sunday Times (via The Daily Mail) posted an excerpt from Julian Fellowes’ Romeo and Juliet script which will feature the now 14-year-old star of Joel and Ethan Coen’s True Grit, Hailee Steinfeld, as Juliet. The excerpt in question calls for the two title characters to “start undressing each other – slowly, gently and carefully until they are naked… They are eternal figures in a Raphael painting. Romeo then carries her to bed, kissing her again and again as they explore uncharted territory. Then they make love, transported into each other’s soul.”

According to Dave Karger over at Entertainment Weekly the ladies of television show “The View” had a “field day” discussing the report (I’ve included the video at the end of this post). However, Karger got in touch with the film’s director, Carlo Carlei, who told the mag, “In the original adaptation written by the Oscar-winning screenwriter Julian Fellowes, there was a lovemaking scene that included nudity for the married Romeo and Juliet. This script was written with a 20-year-old actress in mind. As soon as Hailee Steinfeld was cast, all nudity and lovemaking have been excised from the script. It will be romantic and age-appropriate for a 14-year-old.”

Interestingly enough, this week has provided two different topics of discussion that I think directly relate and make this a far more interesting story.

I’ll begin with the more specific comparison, which was my review of Criterion’s recent Blu-ray release of Catherine Breillat’s Fat Girl, a film that features 14-year-old Anais Reboux being raped at the end in a scene some could easily compare to a similar scene in Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. Of course, in Straw Dogs we’re still talking about a 21-year-old Susan George and not a 14-year-old girl, playing a 12-year-old girl.

Reboux’s breasts are seen in this scene as well as in a prior scene where she poses in front of a mirror. The film contains other material many would consider questionable, and some would probably call pornographic, but if you venture over to the discussion boards at IMDb you’ll find comments such as the following one by a user going by “josie4play” defending the use of such imagery:

Sex is a part of humanity. It’s part of growing up. It’s part of life. It can be beautiful, or it can be ugly. Pedophiles will look at children no matter what. Americans have hangups about sex that Europeans simply don’t. The French weren’t raised with the puritanical, largely fundamentalist Christian background to which the majority of Americans were subjected.

Twelve-year-old girls have breasts. Fifteen-year-old girls have breasts and genitals. I personally lost my virginity at fifteen, and I’m not traumatized for it, and I wasn’t traumatized by seeing a film in which two young actresses, both old enough to make their own decisions, bravely explored their sexuality. Pretending adolescent sexuality doesn’t exist doesn’t make it go away. If you watch the extras on the DVDs, there’s an interview with Anais in which she talks very frankly about her decision to make the film and her feelings about making it. She is impressively wise beyond her years.

If there are pedophiles renting French art films to get their jollies, they’re probably going out of their way. Why not just surf about the internet for ten minutes (or less?) To me, Fat Girl is actually a very innocent, if brutal, film about sexual coming of age. I wish there were more films that explored the things I was feeling when I was a young adolescent, standing in front of the mirror staring at my body for hours, comparing myself to everyone I knew.

What do you think of that?

Next, on Tuesday we saw the debut of an uncensored poster for David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo featuring the titular star (pun sort of intended), Rooney Mara, fully topless. This isn’t exactly the same conversation considering Mara is in her mid-twenties, but I found the comments intriguing. Here’s a selection:

“It’s quite funny and a little bit sad how a poster like this is considered shocking in the U.S. Whatever happened to the land of the free?” – Steffen

“Land of the free as long as it’s not considered sexually stimulating or offensive in any way, because THINK OF THE CHILDREN!” – Vince (Not Vance)

“I don’t know, part of me thinks that just because one can do something, doesn’t mean one should. I respect Fincher a great deal, but I’m not crazy about this. I do not have kids, but if I did, and I was taking my little 8 year old son to see a kid movie, I would not be pleased with him seeing this poster in the theatre lobby.” – Jack Petrillo

“Oh no, it’s uncensored. Where are the yelling parents who don’t have lives?” – Seiko

Those arguments were, however, even less interesting than the point “A-K87” brought up when he/she said, “I think we’re having the wrong discussion here. The discussion should be this: How has a story about a disenfranchised rape victim, misogyny and originally titled ‘Men Who Hate Women’ end up with a nude poster of the women. If there ever was a film which ought not exploit sex to sell, this should be it.”

So where does this leave us? Some seem to think the nudity in Fat Girl is okay because it was made by a European filmmaker, and as the commenter above says, “The French weren’t raised with the puritanical, largely fundamentalist Christian background to which the majority of Americans were subjected.” Well, Romeo and Juliet is directed by an Italian-born filmmaker, does that give him a pass to make Romeo and Juliet however he wants? Would the defenders of the teenage nudity in Fat Girl say Steinfeld should get naked in Romeo and Juliet to preserve the artistry of the feature? Will they be offended the script has been rewritten due to the age of the stars? Is sex simply sex no matter the age? Again, as the commenter above says, “Twelve-year-old girls have breasts. Fifteen-year-old girls have breasts and genitals.” Hard to argue the facts of that one, but I don’t necessarily think that’s the point detractors are arguing against.

Where should the moral line be drawn? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Here is the video from “The View” I mentioned earlier: