Women In Cinema: Dakota Fanning

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In 2001, a young actress broke into the business displaying an overwhelming amount of talent at 7 years old that many actors spend their careers working to achieve. That actress is Dakota Fanning. At a young age, Fanning has displayed talent and maturity well beyond her years.

Last week when I was discussing the “Oscarettes” of the year it got me thinking about all the young actors out there, like Hailee Steinfeld who began their career out with a bang. This inspired me to look into the acting careers of up and comers and observe the direction their career has taken. So, this week Dakota Fanning is the first young actress I will focus on.

Hannah Dakota Fanning was born February 23rd, 1994 in Georgia. At the age of five she played her first role on stage. After an amazing performance, her fellow cast members told her family it would be wise to get an agent. With the support of her parents she got an agent and moved out to Los Angeles for what was supposed to be a few weeks of casting calls. Weeks turned into months but she got hired for her first commercial. In 2000, she appeared on television shows such as ER, CSI and The Practice.

In 2001, Fanning displayed her extraordinary talent in the film, I am Sam. Fanning costarred with Sean Penn and Michelle Pfieffer as the daughter of a man with mental disabilities who becomes the subject of a custody battle. Her spectacular performance was noticed by many critics’ societies and received many nominations and wins. Her biggest nomination came from the Screen Actors Guild Awards for Best Supporting Actress. She unfortunately walked away empty handed but her performance was the perfect start to her career.

The following year, Fanning had a small role as the young version of Reese Witherspoon in the romantic comedy Sweet Home Alabama (2002). She also appeared in the movie Trapped (2002) alongside Charlize Theron and Kevin Bacon, playing Theron’s daughter who gets abducted and taken for ransom by a gang of serial kidnappers. While the movie is mediocre, her performance shines in the film. That year, she also appeared in the miniseries developed by Steven Spielberg, Taken.

In 2003, Fanning starred opposite Mike Myers in the movie adaptation of the beloved children’s book, The Cat in the Hat. While the movie was a disaster, I’m sure in the eyes of a young girl this was not the type of movie to pass up. She seemed to have a lot of fun playing the role of Sally, which made the performance somewhat enjoyable. That year she also starred opposite Brittany Murphy as an uptight snooty child in Uptown Girls.

Man on Fire (2004) was the first movie I ever saw Dakota Fanning in. Starring alongside Denzel Washington, she again plays a young girl kidnapped but this time by a Mexican crime cartel. In the film she wins over the heart of Washington’s character as well as the audiences. Roger Ebert wrote that Fanning “is a pro at only 10 years old, and creates a heart-winning character.” After absorbing her performance, I was motivated to watch everything Fanning had done prior to this movie. Watching this movie I thought she was a pro but at the time I wasn’t aware of her even better performance in I am Sam.

2005 was a big year for the young actress. She had a small role in Nine Lives and then went on to star in the film Hide and Seek opposite Robert DeNiro.  During the film, Fanning shows an enormous range in what she is capable of doing. She shows an uncanny sense of how to upstage the great DeNiro in most of their scenes together. One of the things I loved most about Fanning’s performance was that she actually seemed terrified in the scenes that called for it. While the movie is either be liked or disliked, there’s no denying the power in her performance.

That year she also starred alongside Tom Cruise in the remake of the science fiction classic, War of the Worlds. She played Cruise’s daughter and while the movie was a big hit with critics and audiences, her performance annoyed me. She screamed way too much and that ruined it for me. I just wanted her to shut her mouth and not speak or scream throughout the film. She also went onto star alongside Kurt Russell in Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story. After filming Dreamer, Russell was so astonished by Fanning’s performance in the film. He then gave her a great compliment; “I guarantee you, Dakota is the best actress I will work with in my entire career.” Oh, how sweet.

Fanning returned to the more kid-friendly fare in 2006 and starred in the film adaptation of Charlotte’s Web, based on the book by E.B. White. In 2007, Fanning created a lot of controversy in her next choice of film; Hounddog. She played a poor southern girl with an obsession with Elvis Presley who endures a sexual assault at the hands of an older teen. The last day of filming the news broke about the famous rape scene in the movie. The scene was talked up so much many criticized the 12 year old and claimed this would damage her career, while others made terrible remarks about her parent’s lack of judgment when choosing this role. While this movie was so terrible that not even Meryl Streep could have saved it, many forgot that acting is acting and worse things have been shown in film than a rape scene where you see absolutely nothing but Fanning’s facial expressions.

Fanning sort of bounced back in the movie The Secret Life of Bees (2008) starring opposite Queen Latifah as a 14 year old girl who runs away from her abusive home with her caregiver to South Carolina, a town that holds the secrets to her mother’s past. Fanning delivered a remarkable performance and began her transition from child actor to real actress.

In 2009, Fanning starred in the action film Push, as a girl with paranormal powers. The film proved to be a commercial and critical flop. But while the movie was terrible, I have to say, she looked so grown up and very attractive. Over the course of the year she proved to have better luck with her voiceover efforts, voicing the title character in Coraline. Also in 2009, she surprised audiences or maybe just me, by taking on the role of Jane, a vampire who can hurt people just by looking at them in the hit film The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

I’m sure for a girl her age appearing in the series Twilight may be a huge and awesome experience, but in my opinion I think it’s a mistake. Fanning is an actress who stands out and whose acting deserves to be displayed in a starring or large costarring role. She doesn’t deserve to disappear in the background of the Twilight world surrounding Jacobs’s abs and Edwards’s stupid sparkle. While I am not a twihard, I do somewhat enjoy the films but it’s not a series of films that I expected to see Dakota Fanning in. She plays a dark character with absolutely no emotion or sensitivity which is different from her previous characters but she doesn’t belong in this series and it disappoints me to see her talent go to waste.

The only good thing that will ever come out of being in Twilight is her friendship with Kristen Stewart. The two of them worked together on The Runaways, which chronicled the rise and fall of the innovative 1970s all-girl punk band. Fanning played Cherie Currie, the group’s lead singer known for her highly sexual stage persona. Fanning was the real star of The Runaways. Her portrayal of Currie’s downward spiral from innocent young woman to trying to buy a bottle of vodka for breakfast is where the performance soars. Fanning stole the show and I’m surprised she wasn’t considered for any awards that year.

Dakota Fanning is one of those young actresses who should either have an Oscar or at least a nomination. As a young child she proved she could blow audiences away in I am Sam and she has made a good subtle transition to older roles still deserving of a nomination, for The Runaways specifically speaking.

While Fanning has had an equal amount of hits and misses, the film’s success doesn’t take away from the obvious fact that she is one of the better young actresses out there. I know this will be maybe the 3rd time I’m saying this but she truly displays a talent well beyond her years. I hope now that she is older she won’t lose it or get too caught up in herself. It worries me that she would take on a series like the Twilight Saga, but seeing her in a good film like The Runaways gives me hope that she’ll make the right decisions in her career.

As a child actress she found herself working with some of the best actors in the industry. Actors that so many only wish to work with. She has had more success in her young age than so many actors in the industry. The point is, she is an amazing actress and people know her name because she is extraordinary.  While she is still in her teenage years, I am anxious to see how she transitions fromyoung actress to adult actress; a transition that is often troublesome to young actors. I hope she follows in the footsteps of actress Jodie Foster, because if she does, she will have long, successful career.

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I’ve grown up always being able to share my love of film with others. What makes it particularly important to me is that my passion started with my parents and my best friend Caitlin. Whether it has been spending the whole day at the theater with my parents, or sitting on the floor of a movie store for hours with Caitlin, this love of mine has always been a huge part of who I am. This love affair has been going strong for over a decade. My name is Anna and I’m in love with film. Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/AYAwardsCircuit