Brooke Shields’ Hulu Documentary “Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” Sparks Conversation on Ethics in Hollywood

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Actress and model Brooke Shields stepped into the spotlight as an infant, initially appearing in soap and shampoo advertisements, and built her early career on modeling before being cast in the 1977 film “Pretty Baby.” The film inspired the title of Shield’s 2023 documentary of the same name, which dropped on Hulu yesterday. The documentary, directed by Lana Wilson, gives Shields a platform to discuss her feelings on her controversial career.

The two-part series also allows for her former security detail, personal friends (including actresses Laura Linney and Drew Barrymore), and culture journalists to break down the overall societal impacts that led the entertainment industry to sexualize minors in the 1970s. Wilson also famously directed Taylor Swift’s “Miss Americana” documentary for Netflix, which premiered in 2020.

Viewers immediately sympathized with Shields’ experiences, much of which she had little control over during her early childhood. Her mother, Teri Shields, divorced her father when she was young, moving them between small apartments and gradually falling into a struggle with alcoholism. Laura Linney, who attended elementary school with Shields, recounted hiding in a room with Shields when her mother came home drunk.

Shields rapidly became a glamorous beacon of beauty standards for young women as a child and teenager, modeling for popular brands like Calvin Klein and appearing in teen films like “Blue Lagoon” and “Endless Love.” Shields famously had several nude scenes in her films while she was a minor, in addition to nude photographs taken by photographer Gary Gross when she was only nine years old. Shields and her mother attempted to sue Gross to stop the public distribution of the photographs when she was older, but ultimately lost the lawsuit.


The public previously placed blame on the sexualization of Shields as a child on her mother, who managed her career for much of her life. Culture critics in the documentary, including Buzzfeed Senior Culture Writer Scaachi Koul, explained that many of the men who dominated the entertainment industry in the 1970s responded to second wave feminism by sexualizing minors.

In the 1970s, Roe v. Wade paved the way for women’s reproductive rights, and women were beginning to take back their agency and publicly not adhere to the stereotypical male gaze that former starlets were placed in, notably Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren. Once women liberated themselves, men in power “replaced them with little girls” who appeared more submissive.

The opening of the documentary also offers the perspective of social media redistributing fame in the entertainment industry, and sometimes allowing for more personal agency. After seeing this portion of the documentary, the internet is divided on whether the industry sexualizes children or if individual parents allow for it to continue.

This background information in mind, Shields proceeded to tell more detailed stories of her personal experiences of being catapulted into the spotlight at such a young age. She recounted “never looking in the mirror” because of how much media emphasis was placed on her face. Shields also revealed that her first kiss was with her then 29-year-old costar Keith Carradine when she was only 11 years old on the set of “Pretty Baby,” and she was raped by an unnamed film producer when she was in her early 20s.

Shields revealed she struggled with disassociation for much of her early life given her traumatic on-camera intimate scenes, and her security detail Gavin DeBecker explained to her that she was raped after she explained the incident to him. DeBecker said,“I had invested so much of my life in protecting Brooke. I was angry to hear her story, I was very upset and I’m still very upset about it now. That’s like my little sister, and I wanted her to know she didn’t do anything wrong.”


Shields’ documentary is attracting praise for its nuanced exploration of her decades-long career, and the multifaceted lives of famous women. She additionally detailed her experience at Princeton University, which was frequently joked about in public, as “sex symbols weren’t supposed to be smart.” Shields recounted the first time she felt heard, when the Dean of the University told her to “find her own hypotheses” during her four year experience at the college.

The documentary ends with Shields having a conversation with her two teenaged daughters, Rowan, 19, and Grier, 16, as they discuss the ethics of her earlier films, and the importance of allowing women to have agency over their bodies. She echoed these statements in her appearance on “Today with Hoda & Jenna” this morning.

“Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” is now available to stream on Hulu.

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