Leave Those Kids Alone
by Shay McHale | published Feb. 15th, 2018
Ever since child actors have been on screen, Hollywood has pressured them to grow up. In the case of “Stranger Things” and “It,” the kids in these productions now face the extreme pressure from media, fans and the industry to abandon their childhood and innocence.
Millie Bobby Brown, a 13 year old who plays Eleven on “Stranger Things,” has been especially subject to this kind of scrutiny and sexualization. From articles titled “Millie Bobby Brown just grew up in front of our eyes” to multitudes of comments on her Instagram page about how good she'll look when she turns 18, Brown — along with her fellow cast members — has been subjected to many inappropriate statements.
This kind of behavior is not uncommon, new or unusual in any way. Websites will often host “countdown clocks” to see how much time is left before many actresses turn 18,
Mara Wilson, famous for her role in “Matilda,” has been a vocal critic of this behavior, replying to the “grew up in front of our eyes” tweet with a polite “Knock it the fuck off.” In the two decades following her role as Matilda, Wilson has been advocating for the protection of child actors, calling out the way that Hollywood and the media look at these children.
“It’s not just the Hollywood insiders that take advantage. It’s the media narrative, as well. The articles and the comments in response to this disgust me. It’s not just executives doing shitty things. Sometimes, it’s viewers like you,” said Wilson, who herself had plenty of experience with this kind of harassment. In a piece for Elle, she discussed her own struggles, including a “fan” who requested she mail back her lip-print on an index card he mailed her.
“As soon as I’d hit puberty, it had become okay for strangers to discuss my body,” Wilson wrote. “Because I was a child actor, my body was public domain.”
Her protective stance has been shared by many, including the musician Sia, who has cast 15-year old Maddie Ziegler in multiple music videos. After critiques about Ziegler’s willingness to participate in these videos, Sia tweeted that she constantly is checking in with the young dancer and that she makes sure that “if [Ziegler] ever wants it to stop it stops.”
The issue doesn’t end with the public gaze, however. Corey Feldman, who acted in “Goonies” at the age of 14, has started a campaign to expose Hollywood's pedophilia ring. He is currently raising money to make an exposé film detailing his experience as well as protect his family. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, more allegations are coming out about pedophilia in many industries, bringing to light just how tainted the culture surrounding these child actors has become.
One of the primary issues with child actors' sexualization is that much of the blame is still placed on the kids themselves. Some people believe since they chose to become famous, child actors willingly make themselves perceptible to sexualization and harassment. Child actors are often chided for dressing a certain way, which of course some interpret as an open invitation to treat them as sexual objects. These arguments make several false assumptions, the first being that these kids have the same level of agency as adults.
Even for adult actors in Hollywood, much of their professional life is arranged by an agent or publicist. Kids have all of that and, on top of it, their parents controlling them. All of these people make decisions for the child actors, for better or for worse. Yes, the kids are not simply puppets, but to put the blame on a kid for dressing in a way you consider sexual is almost as big of a problem as you thinking of a kid in a sexual way, regardless of how they dress.
The culture surrounding sexualization of actors in Hollywood is visibly exploitative. Very few actors are free from this if any, and to see this same culture extended and projected onto children is just wrong. With the recent developments in exposing the criminal acts in the Hollywood industry, there is hope that this culture is changing, but it is certainly a long road ahead. Until then, all that can be done is to just let these kids be kids.