Born Innocent (film)

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Born Innocent
"Born Innocent" DVD cover
Written byBook:
Creighton Brown Burnham
Gerald Di Pego
Directed byDonald Wrye
StarringLinda Blair
Richard Jaeckel
Kim Hunter
Theme music composerFred Karlin
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
Executive producer(s)Robert W. Christiansen
Rick Rosenberg
Producer(s)Bruce Cohn Curtis
Production location(s)Albuquerque, New Mexico
Algodones, New Mexico
CinematographyDavid M. Walsh
Editor(s)Maury Winetrobe
Running time98 minutes
Production company(s)Tomorrow Entertainment
Original networkNBC
Picture formatColor
Audio formatMono
Original releaseSeptember 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.[1] 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 one too many times, is sentenced to do time in a girls' juvenile detention center, which doubles as a reform school for the girls. It is slowly revealed that Christine Parker comes from an abusive home; her father (Richard Jaeckel) would beat her on a regular basis, which caused Chris to run away many times. Her mother (Kim Hunter) is just as troubled as Chris 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 out, as he has his own family to care about and look after. While the movie had a morality play tone, calling attention to the harsh conditions of juvenile detention centers, it also blames society for Christine's downfall.

Throughout the movie, Chris' social worker Emma Lasko (Allyn Ann McLerie) never realizes that her dysfunctional parents caused her to run away and the juvenile justice system focused all the blame and punishment on Christine for her bad behavior. With the exception of one dedicated counselor named Barbara Clark (Joanna Miles), the reform school personnel were mostly apathetic and allowed 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 problems at home.

After Chris is investigated for starting a riot at the reform school after a pregnant detainee miscarried due to the abuse by the staff, she calmly maintains that she had nothing to do with any of the events that happened. In the final shot, Barbara looks on helplessly as she sees Chris, an innocent, intelligent, decent girl, now fully transformed into a violent, pathological, manipulative, vengeful and cold person, no longer having any guilt or remorse for her actions, who will most likely become an adult criminal when released upon turning legal age.


Controversy over the rape scene[edit]

The original cut of Born Innocent contained a scene where Blair's character was raped in the communal showers by several girls led by Moco (Nora Heflin) and Denny (Janit Baldwin) with a plunger handle.

Unsuitability for the younger public[edit]

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.[2]

Depiction of lesbianism[edit]

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.[2]

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."[2] The shower scene was eventually pulled from the film due to multiple complaints.[3]

Lawsuit over copycat crime[edit]

The film was also blamed for the rape of Olivia Niemi, a nine-year-old girl, committed on Baker's Beach, in San Francisco, by some of her peers with a glass soda pop bottle after she was tormented and humiliated with one seven-year-old friend by the band. Valeria Niemi, the victim's mother, basing on the fact the author who held the bottle, Sharon Smith, 15, 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", sued NBC and asked for damages up to $11 million. Two other girls, 10 and 15, and the boy who served as lookout saw charges dropped.[4][5][6][7][8]

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.[9][10]

Effect on rape awareness[edit]

On the film's impact, Blair has stated that she felt that the movie made it easier for rape survivors to come forward.[11]

Post original airings[edit]

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.

VHS and DVD release[edit]

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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Born Innocent". The New York Times.
  2. ^ a b c Levine, Elana (2007-01-09). Wallowing in Sex: The New Sexual Culture of 1970s American Television. Duke University Press. pp. 85–87. ISBN 0822339196.
  3. ^ Mansour, David (2011-06-01). From Abba to Zoom: A Pop Culture Encyclopedia of the Late 20th Century. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 52. ISBN 9780740793073.
  4. ^ "Assaulted after movie". Daily Universe. August 10, 1978. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  5. ^ "Worries About TV Violence Persist". Washington Post. 1978-08-14. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 2018-12-03.
  6. ^ Fowles, Jib (1999-09-20). "Continuity in violence". The Case for Television Violence. SAGE. p. 2. ISBN 9781452221670.
  7. ^ "NBC wins round in `Born Innocent' case; S.F. judge declares nonsuit" (PDF). Broadcasting: 30. August 14, 1978. Retrieved 2018-12-04.
  8. ^ Cowan, Geoffrey (28 March 1980). See No Evil. Simon and Schuster. pp. 287–289. ISBN 978-0-671-25411-7.
  9. ^ Olivia N. v. National Broadcasting Company, 126 Cal. App.3d 488 (1981)
  10. ^ Tong, Rosemarie (8 October 2013). Feminist Thought: A Comprehensive Introduction. Routledge. p. 118. ISBN 978-1-136-13308-4.
  11. ^ O'Connor, Jane; Mercer, John (2017-03-16). Childhood and Celebrity. Taylor & Francis. p. 125. ISBN 9781317518952.

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