Director: Lana Wilson
Runtime: 138 minutes
By Morgan Roberts
It is difficult to talk about “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” without acknowledging the normalization of the sexualization of girls – literally children – and young woman. Present day knowledge and perspective has given us the license to not explain away or ignore our gut feelings. Brooke Shields, as an actress and a model, was not afforded that during her formative years. Instead she faced both hyper-sexualization and simultaneous slut-shaming for her work and the choices being made around her. In the docuseries, “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields,” director Lana Wilson gets candid with Shields and Shields’ friends and peers about the stars fame, obstacles, and exploitation.
Whether you know Shields from the “The Blue Lagoon,” her Calvin Kline ads, or her vulnerable conversations about her experience with postpartum depression, Shields has been apart of the culture you have consumed. But from a young age, Shields was put in compromising and exploitative situations. The docuseries covers the controversial projects she was apart of as a child. In films such as “Pretty Baby” and “The Blue Lagoon,” Shields was required to film nude scenes. She was 12 and 14, respectively, when both films were released. Even though we have heard countless horror stories we have heard from other former child stars, it is still astonishing to see the way minors were treated by Hollywood. Moreover, what parents allowed their children to endure. It makes you wonder the conversations that occurred where executives talked parents into letting them film nude scenes their children.
But what the docuseries covers, that may not be super common knowledge, was the nude photographs that were not only taken of a then-10 year old Shields, but were later sold without her permission. A lawsuit then ensued which found an 18 year old Shields having to defend her right to privacy, her body, and her younger self. And while it is sickening to think those photographs were allowed to be taken, it is even more appalling to know that Shields lost. You have to ponder how many more girls were subjected to this and how many did not come forward. Why would someone further risk their reputation and well-being when someone as famous, as privileged, as visible as Shields could lose that case? At the time, her Calvin Kline ads certainly weren’t helping her case.
While society called her “provocative” and basically slut-shamed her, they perpetuated this narrative by the lukewarm response to her litigation. That somehow, her participating in an ad as an adult also justifies the exploitation of her body when she was a child. What is also interesting is the response to it. Everyone expresses how bad it was, but the level of disgust at the situation. Is it due to the time that has elapsed, or perhaps is it due to the normalization of it all? You become hyperaware of this as you listen to Shields’ own daughters talk about body autonomy and exploitation. It is eye-opening to see how generations of women conceptualize the world around and how they combat against patriarchal views.
It goes in tandem with her openness about experiencing postpartum depression. Few women and birthing people talk about their experience, because as caregivers, as mothers, it is expectant for them to be overjoyed with the arrival of their new family members. In 2005, when mental health was further stigmatized than it is now, it was radical to hear a woman who lived through postpartum depression to actually talk about. To talk about the struggle. To talk about her feelings. It is a moment that lived in the press not just for her candidness, but for actor Tom Cruise’s reaction. Cruise, who famously does not believe in mental healthcare, lambasted Shields publicly because of her willingness to talk about her depression and the mediation she took to aide her through that. Once again, we witness Shields being scrutinized by men. Scrutinized for having the audacity to openly speak about her mental health struggles and the ways in which she overcame postpartum depression.
If “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” showcases anything, it is the fact that Shields herself is a prime example of what women experience. The slut-shaming and the over-sexualization. The scrutiny. The societal definitions of her worth which clash with her own personhood. And theses pressures and pitfalls are then exacerbated by life in the public eye. In a little over two hours, we witness the tremendous obstacles a woman has faced since childhood, and her public fight to regain her truth. Shields provides nothing but candor and authenticity in this docuseries. And it is with those elements that she highlights her perseverance and tenacity even in the toughest of times.