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NC lawmakers should stay out of show business

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Last week, while national media focused on our little pocket of the state after a group fight on the campus of Guilford College and North Carolina’s death penalty procedures was dealt a staggering blow, at least one NC lawmaker was directing his attention to what may be the most famous rape ever to have (not) taken place on our soil.

Devotees of moral outrage surely have heard by now of the new motion picture Hounddog, a dark Southern drama about the end of childhood for 9-year-old Elvis fan, played by award-winning actor Dakota Fanning. Fanning, who is 12, plays the 9-year-old Lewellen, who during the course of the film is raped by a teenaged acquaintance. The film was shot in Wilmington.

Disturbing? Absolutely. Tasteless? Arguable. Illegal? No – it’s movie, and though Ms. Fanning is a fine performer she was not actually raped in the scene.

But that fact didn’t stop Sen. Phil Berger of the 26th District, which includes parts of Rockingham and Guilford counties, from suggesting that the state government should be more actively involved in the productions shot in our state.

The proposed bill, which as of this writing has not yet been drafted, posits that before qualifying for NC’s motion picture tax break – a refund of about 15 percent of in-state expenditures during shooting – scripts should be read and approved by a government official and those deemed “objectionable” should be ineligible for the incentive.

Berger, who admits he has not seen the film in question, has served in the NC General Assembly since 2002 and his 2007 agenda reveals a commitment to law and order, respect for education and low taxes, and a desire to define marriage as strictly between a man and a woman.

This is the first time to our knowledge he has expressed interest in becoming part of the filmmaking process.

And we don’t like it. Forget the First Amendment issues, which may or may not apply here – we’re thinking about the state’s film industry, which generates something in the neighborhood of $300 million and supports some 2,000 individuals who work in the business. And North Carolina is trying to attract production companies who will bring their projects to life here, not remind them that Jesse Helms and his ilk once held sway over the ideological culture of the state.

Also, we’re movie fans who don’t like the idea of government officials giving notes on scripts, or having any say in what gets made and what doesn’t because… well, because they’re government employees, not movie makers, and An Inconvenient Truth notwithstanding they don’t belong in the process.

The Color Purple, which was shot in NC, would probably pass muster (though surely someone would be offended by the frank depiction of slavery) and likely The Last of the Mohicans, also shot here, would have made the cut unless Native American tribes objected to the historical inaccuracies.

But what of Lolita or The Mutilator or any of the dozens of horror flicks that are part of our state’s celluloid legacy? Would any of these have passed a screening by Sen. Berger? Maybe and maybe not. But it’s a question we would rather not be asked.

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