Creighton Brown Burnham
Gerald Di Pego
|Directed by||Donald Wrye|
|Theme music composer||Fred Karlin|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Executive producers||Robert W. Christiansen|
|Producer||Bruce Cohn Curtis|
|Production locations||Albuquerque, New Mexico|
Algodones, New Mexico
|Cinematography||David M. Walsh|
|Running time||98 minutes|
|Production company||Tomorrow Entertainment|
|Distributor||Sony Pictures Television|
|Original release||September 10, 1974|
Born Innocent is a 1974 American made-for-television drama film which was first aired under the NBC World Premiere Movie umbrella on September 10, 1974. Highly publicized and controversial, Born Innocent was the highest-rated television movie to air in the United States in 1974. The movie deals with the physical, psychological and sexual abuse of a teenage girl, and included graphic content never before seen on American television.
Christine "Chris" Parker (Linda Blair) is a 14-year-old runaway who, after getting arrested many times, is sentenced to spend time in a girls' juvenile detention center. It is revealed that Chris comes from an abusive home; her father (Richard Jaeckel) would beat her on a regular basis, which led to her repeated flights from home. Her mother (Kim Hunter) is unfeeling, sitting in her recliner, watching television and smoking cigarettes all day, and in complete denial as to what her husband is doing. Only Chris' older brother Tom (Mitch Vogel) is aware of the abuse, but he is powerless to help Chris, as he has his own family to care about and look after.
Chris' social worker Emma Lasko (Allyn Ann McLerie) never realizes that her dysfunctional parents are the cause of her troubles, and that the juvenile justice system places the blame for her troubles on Chris herself. With the exception of one dedicated counselor named Barbara Clark (Joanna Miles), the reform school personnel are mostly apathetic and allow an unhealthy, destructive culture to fester in the school. Despite Barbara's attempts to help Christine talk about her problems, she is powerless as Chris refuses to open up to her or anyone else about her abuse.
After Chris is attacked in the shower and sexually assaulted by her fellow inmates, as well as witnessing a pregnant resident whom Chris befriends suffer a miscarriage while in isolation, and the pervasive indifference of the staff, Chris - ultimately feeling abandoned by the system in addition to her family - becomes angry, cold and bitter. After an argument between Chris and Ms. Lasko turns physical, a riot ensues. Chris is investigated for causing the riot. She calmly maintains that she had nothing to do with it. In the final shot, Barbara looks on helplessly as she sees Chris, an innocent, intelligent, decent girl, transformed into a violent, pathological, manipulative, vengeful and cold person, devoid of any guilt or remorse for her actions, who will most likely become an adult criminal when released upon reaching legal age.
The original cut of Born Innocent contained a scene where several girls, led by Moco (Nora Heflin) and Denny (Janit Baldwin), use a plunger handle to rape Chris in the communal showers.
Born Innocent is credited with being one of the catalysts for the National Association of Broadcasters creating a family viewing policy and University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee educator Elena Levine has noted that the film was initially advertised in The New York Times alongside the television show Born Free, which she felt may have encouraged viewers to believe the film to be family friendly.
The film also made several negative references to lesbianism throughout the film and one version of the script contained a character description of Moco, heavily implying that her lesbianism was a result of her surroundings as well as what prompts her abuse of Chris and others.
The film was criticized by the National Organization for Women, the New York Rape Coalition, and numerous gay and lesbian rights organizations for its depiction of female-on-female sexual abuse; the Lesbian Feminist Liberation dismissed the film, stating: "Men rape, women don't," and regarded the film as "propaganda against lesbians." The shower scene was eventually pulled from the film due to multiple complaints.
The film was also blamed for the rape of nine-year-old Olivia Niemi, on Baker's Beach, San Francisco, by some of her peers with a glass soda pop bottle. Valeria Niemi, the victim's mother, sued NBC and asked for damages up to $11 million. Her lawsuit referenced the facts that one of the perpetrators, Sharon Smith (the only one to have been jailed for the attack, having been sentenced to three years in a federal prison), evoked the movie when she was arrested, and that William Thomas, 14, the boy who provided the bottle, asked if it will be "like it was done in the picture". Two other girls, 10 and 15, and the boy who served as lookout saw charges dropped.
In 1981, the California Supreme Court would declare the film was not obscene, and that the NBC network was not liable for the actions of the persons who committed the crime.
On the film's impact, Blair has stated that she felt that the movie made it easier for rape survivors to come forward.
In a response to the incident, re-airings in the late 1970s and 1980s did not air any of the rape sequence. The real-life rape, in part, helped establish the Family Viewing Hour which became briefly mandatory for the networks in the late 1970s, as the movie was aired at 8 to 9 pm Eastern Time, when some children may not have been in bed.
After the edited re-airings in the 1980s, the uncut version appeared on VHS in numerous budget-priced editions. In 2004, VCI Entertainment released Born Innocent on DVD with the rape scene included.
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