Brooke Shields offers a penetrating look at a rotten system

There’s a passage in there Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields That makes this celebrity documentary a must-see. Through Shields’ own experiences and the accompanying commentary of close friends and scholars, the film paints a chilling picture of how the world shapes young women that transcends the life of just one pop culture icon.

pretty baby — titled after the controversial 1978 film, and a nod to the public image imposed on the actress simply for daring to grow up traditionally beautiful — takes us quickly, yet down-to-earth, through the key events of Shields’ life. From Birth to Present, each major event is presented by the titular star, while other important figures in her life, such as security expert Gavin de Becker and childhood friend Laura Linney, augment the information from an outsider’s perspective. But that’s just the part closely related to the bio, because where pretty baby What really shines is in the theoretical framework that authors, journalists, lecturers, and sociologists produce.

Names like Meenakshi Durham, Scaachi Koul and Jean Kilbourne – author of The Lolita Effect, Senior Culture Writer at Buzzfeed and Lecturer in Media Literacy respectively – turn the tumultuous life of a child star into a case study for the position of women in Western patriarchal society, further distorted by the visual force of the consumerist turn of the last century. Shields’ trajectory seems a far cry from the average Jane given how popular and stunningly beautiful she was, but on closer inspection it’s just a microcosm of the female experience.

From the start, Shields was reduced to her physicality and looks, largely by her own mother, who was convinced she would be a star with a face like hers. A career in advertising followed, but as she grew from toddler to teenager, the type of jobs she was offered became increasingly questionable and sexual in nature. Many questioned her mother’s decision to accept this, but while that was indeed part of the problem, there was a whole system that allowed these directors and photographers to photograph minors in just their birthday suits.

Arranged entirely in chronological order, the documentary skips the time when Shields posed nude for a playboy sister magazine at this point so they could bring it up later — at a time when pretty baby And Blue Lagoon had made her the most famous teenager in the world – the images reappear. Shields describes the court case as “hurting,” not because of the content of the photos, but because of the betrayal of trust and friendship and the public embarrassment she suffered from a bunch of grown men. She was 17 and lost the case.

Many around Shields are decrying the disturbing concept behind it pretty babyand the fact that she is nude and engaged in sexual acts in both this and that film Blue Lagoon before she was 15 (a body double was used for the latter title, which doesn’t change the fact that you were trying to make believe it was actually Shields). However, the now 57-year-old actress has no bad memories from either set. It is Endless Love which she remembers with distaste. Director Franco Zeffirelli, unhappy with Shields’ orgasmic face during a sex scene, twisted her toe out of frame to grimace. Shields had never had sex, she didn’t know what to look like, and Zeffirelli was really hurting her. “I just broke up,” she admits.

Image via Hulu

Fast forward a few years after she graduated from Princeton and is trying to rebuild her career – no easy feat despite being once the most talked about actress in America – and she would once again be forced to hone her “skills” muster, which she had mastered throughout her career. For the first time, Shields tells how she was raped in a hotel room after a supposed job interview by a big Hollywood producer, whose name she does not name. It’s one of the most heartbreaking moments in the film, but gracefully handled by director Lana Wilson.

Shields is open about her relationship with sex prior to this traumatic encounter. Despite being labeled a sex symbol far too early in her life, the model and actress was once America’s most famous virgin. After she made the fact public, interviewers asked her nothing else, fascinated by how the girl who shocked the world with this salacious Calvin Klein ad campaign never actually had sex. The poster child for adolescent sexuality became the face of abstinence and purity because the world simply refused to see her outside of that duality. Shields’ account of her first time with her college friend evokes a far more complex and real experience than anything the industry has tried to foist on her. And it soon becomes clear every day that she was always so much more (more talented, smarter, stronger) than she ever let herself be.

Every woman and every observant man will relate much of what is described to lived or witnessed experiences – and that without even being part of the entertainment industry. For your value to be reduced to your sexuality, for your personality to be pigeonholed from which it is difficult to break out, for people to push you too far and abuse you in the name of their own self-serving fantasies—to varying degrees, that is it female experience.

At the end of Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields, we are initiated into a family scene set in the Shields household, in which the famous actress and her two daughters discuss the plot of films the matriarch starred in as a child. Her own children tell her pretty baby would never have been done today and that they can’t even look at it, while Shields asks how different it is from posting bikini pics on Instagram. We are then confronted with the reality that the judgment we made as viewers of the dubious practices of the ’70s and ’80s must now be redirected to arguably the worse version of the same child exploitation, much more covert, but certainly also more pervasive, thanks to that internet and social media.

The documentary ends by raising awareness that Shields’ life was not an unusual occurrence, but rather a symptom of a world created to manipulate, suffocate and control women. No matter how far we think we’ve come, new, camouflaged ways of reducing women to their looks will always raise heads, and most of the time we won’t even notice, just as Shields had no idea pretty baby crossed any boundaries while filming.


The Hulu documentary touches on so many aspects of a fascinating life story, but none is more important than the bits we can relate to broadly. Brooke Shields offers a penetrating look at a rotten system

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