This season's "Desperate Housewives" focuses on Gabrielle's four-year-old daughter's obesity. Madison De La Garza's portrayal of Juanita Solice is funny, compelling and relatable. But, De La Garza is also a real-life child whose appearance is the butt of a joke. Can she come out of this unscathed?
It's reminiscent of when Tracey Gold played Carol Seaver on "Growing Pains" from 1985 to 1992. On the show, her older TV brother poked fun at her by referring to her as chubby -- although in reality she was average weight. The make-believe banter had a real-life effect on the actress, who admitted it contributed to her long-running battle with anorexia.
Madison isn't the first child cast in a questionable role. After Linda Blair played a possessed child in 1973's "The Exorcist," the 16-year-old actress received death threats. Jodie Foster played a 12-year-old prostitute in 1976's "Taxi Driver" when she was 14. While the role didn't seem to affect Foster -- she is often seen as the poster child for child actor success stories -- it certainly had an effect on society. Her character was the inspiration for John Hinckley Jr.'s assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan in 1982. More recently, a then 12-year-old Dakota Fanning played a victim in a rape scene in "Hounddog." Although director Deborah Kampmeier says the filming was very technical and Fanning never acted out the rape, many groups protested the film and the AMC theater chain pulled the feature from their cinemas.Paul Peterson, who from the age of 12 to 20 played Jeff Stone on "The Donna Reed Show," formed the child star advocacy group, A Minor Consideration. Momlogic asked him if scripts like this can have an effect on the child in their real life. He said, "I watched my movie father being hanged on the set 55 years ago. The image is still with me." He said that although some children may seem like they are wise beyond their years, its important to remember they are paid to pretend.
Momlogic spoke to an ABC spokesperson who assured us that producers have been taking precautions from the get-go. For instance, they made a conscious effort to hire an older actress to play the part. Madison is seven, playing a four-year-old. In addition, we're told the writers are very protective of Madison and they have an ongoing, open dialogue with the young star and her mother. Also, Madison is never present during scenes featuring the adult characters talking about her weight.
In future episodes, we'll see the storyline evolve into Gabrielle's struggle with her family's HEALTH issues, rather than just her daughter's weight issues -- something many American mothers can relate to. An ABC rep makes it clear though -- "Housewives" creator Marc Cherry thinks Madison is an excellent addition to the cast and breathes new life into the show. We asked if Madison watched the episodes showing her ridicule, the rep said she did not know.
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