There was shock, anger, and some compassion for the ex-convict when news broke Oct. 24 that Victor Salva, Powder's writer-director, had served time for molesting the 12-year-old male star of his 1988 feature Clownhouse. As Disney clammed up and a Powder producer claimed they hadn't learned of his record until after shooting started, others who know Salva or know about pedophiles wonder at the film's release with several sexually suggestive scenes intact.
David Gersh, Salva's agent, says, ''There is only one thing in this film that relates to Victor's life,'' a deathbed scene that recalls the passing of Salva's mother in 1985. But even costar Mary Steenburgen (who says she learned of Salva's history only after a public protest by his victim, Nathan Winters, now 20, made it hot news in Variety) acknowledged before the controversy flared that in some sense Powder ''is very personal for Victor...he wrote this straight from his heart.''
Some therapists agree. According to Sandra Baker, executive director of the Child and Family Institute in Sacramento, Calif., child molesters think ''they are more perceptive and beautiful than other people. They feel misunderstood.'' Salva's having made Powder a pale, hairless, sensitive outcast fits ''what pedophiles can relate to,'' she adds. ''They want their victims to be hairless usually. They don't want adult sex characteristics.''
L.A. family therapist Lisa Hacker notes that when a teacher (Jeff Goldblum) tells Powder that he's ''never had better sex'' since being touched by him, and then later strokes his bald head the conduct is ''very intimate and inappropriate.''
Should the filmmakers and studio have known better? ''[Most] of Victor's films are about young boys who've been abused and misunderstood,'' says Candice Christie, who shared a home with Salva in the mid-1980s. John Allred, who was cinematographer on two unreleased Salva films, says of Powder: ''Victor's pain just oozes from this movie, as it does with every movie he's made.''
Salva declines to comment, but Powder producer Daniel Grodnik says everyone felt ''the issue was already out [due to 1988 press coverage in California] and didn't have any heat. Doesn't the fact that these scenes remained show that nobody thought [they] were a problem?''
Baker condemns that attitude. ''By dismissing this as old news, the movie studio participated in the secrecy and the cycle of abuse,'' she says. ''They are what I call enablers. They underestimated the seriousness of it.'' Winters, who is urging a boycott, is equally emphatic about Salva. ''I don't care what he does with his life,'' he says, ''but he should never be around a child again.''