Brooke Shields never wanted creative control of her new two-part Hulu documentary Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields, which confronts head-on the overt sexuality that was placed on her as a child during her early career making films like Louis Malle’s 1978 sex work drama Pretty Baby, Randal Kleiser’s 1980 teen romance Blue Lagoon, and Franco Zeffirelli’s 1981 romance Endless Love.
Directed by Lana Wilson (Miss Americana), Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields had its world premiere on Friday night at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, where Shields herself was in attendance. The doc will begin streaming on Hulu at a later date.
“I really did not want to have much of a say, for the very fact that I wanted Lana’s vision, obviously. But I didn’t want to be the one that was affecting any of the outcome because A., [Wilson is] an artist, and also, it just felt it would have felt insincere in a way if I had cherry-picked only the good things that I wanted to put out there. I knew it was important — to me, it was very important that all of it needed to be seen. And I did not want to hinder any of that,” Shields said in a Q&A following the premiere screening.
“Because of the nature of the way my life has been, and very surface, and that’s sort of always been the focus. It’s why I wanted to go to university. It’s why I wanted to live out away from Hollywood. And I knew that you would be able to see the depth because I knew that my story just had to have more meaning than all of the frivolous pieces of it,” she added.
Wilson sensed this bravery to embrace the truth during her very first meeting with Shields.
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“She had this courage, this fearlessness that I could see in her in that first meeting. Her only concern about the documentary was that it wouldn’t be deep enough that it wouldn’t be layered enough,” Wilson said.
Shields actually began her life in show business as a baby with an Ivory Soap ad and continued to work as a child model before getting cast in Pretty Baby at the age of 11. The 1978 Louis Malle film followed the story of Violet (Shields), the daughter of Hattie (Susan Sarandon), a sex worker in an early 1900s New Orleans brothel. When Hattie skips town and leaves 12-year-old Violet to work in the brothel, she befriends an older photographer named Bellocq (Keith Carradine). The film was lauded in Europe when it debuted but was criticized heavily in America as child porn due because of two nude scenes featuring Shields as a minor.
During her initial research for the documentary, Shields gave Wilson a hard drive with footage her mother had saved from her early career.
“I opened a clip of Brooke at age 12 on the tour — the press tour for Pretty Baby. And I saw her sitting with a male talk show host being told, ‘You’re very beautiful, you’re very sensual. You must be so proud of that.’ At the same time, ‘You’re too sexual. This is going too far. Aren’t you ashamed of being a part of kiddie porn?’ And I remember watching that, thinking, we’ve come a long way. But we also have not come far at all,” Wilson said.
“You were a symbol of so many things, and your symbolism — you were holding up a mirror, basically, to these changing ideas about women and girls and American culture,” Wilson told Shields “It was so interesting to me that you could go from this very sexualized girl in the late 70s to this symbol of virginity and purity in the 80s.”
.Main Image: Brooke Shields appears in Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields by Lana Wilson, an official selection of the Premiers Program at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Getty