Brooke Shields Opens Up About Trauma From Being Sexualized as a Child in "Pretty Baby" Trailer

Courtesy of Sundance Institute
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Content Warning: This article includes mention of sexual abuse.

For years, Brooke Shields's career was defined by a sexuality bestowed on her that she couldn't claim nor understand, but now the 57-year-old actor and former child model is ready to set the record straight.

A two-part documentary about the '80s icon, directed by Lana Wilson and titled "Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields," premiered on Jan. 20 at this year's Sundance Film Festival, shedding light on the many controversies that plagued Brooke's career — from her problematic role as a 12-year-old sex worker in "Pretty Baby" and teensploitation flicks ("The Blue Lagoon," "Endless Love") to her nude photos scandal — as well as her complicated relationship with her mother and former manager, Teri Shields, who died on Oct. 31, 2012, at age 79. Now, the documentary will get an April streaming release on Hulu.

Having the opportunity to reflect on her life and career now, Brooke speaks in depth about her public coming of age and the pressures of being a young "breadwinner," which encouraged her to take more gigs — as troubling as they were for a child — in order to take care of her and her mother, who suffered from alcoholism for years. "I'm amazed that I survived any of it," Brooke says in the documentary's trailer, which was released on March 21.

The honest, eye-opening film features commentary from Brooke's good friends, including Lionel Richie, Drew Barrymore, and Judd Nelson, as well as cultural experts who help break down the toxic, perverted nature of the entertainment business that has allowed figures like Brooke to be hypersexualized at an early age.

"[Brooke's] life has been extreme and utterly unique, but her experience of being a woman in America is horrifyingly relatable," director Wilson said in a previous interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "It's a larger conversation on the sexualization of young women," Brooke added of the documentary. "Myself being at the eye of that storm on many different levels throughout the decades. I've been a part of the conversation — or maybe not even a part of the conversation, but part of the focus — and that narrative itself has changed over time, depending on outside influences and the era."

In addition to analyzing her career, "Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields" delves into more personal topics for Brooke, including some of her past relationships with exes like fellow actor Dean Cain and tennis champ Andre Agassi, her ex-husband whom she divorced in 1999 (she's now married to husband Chris Henchy). The documentary also reveals a heartbreaking account from Brooke in which she details being sexually assaulted in her 20s, a topic she told THR she "did not know if or when or if at all" she would ever bring up.

"Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields" is set to be released in two parts on Hulu next month. Check out the documentary's trailer, release date, and biggest takeaways ahead.

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"Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields" Trailer and Release Date

ABC News released the official trailer for the two-part documentary on March 21. The film begins streaming exclusively on Hulu on April 3.

"Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields" | Part One Revelations
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

"Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields" | Part One Revelations

  • Brooke didn't realize she was being sexualized as a child. During the early years of Brooke's career, her mother, Teri, faced harsh backlash for "exploiting the sexuality of a child," though the momager said she didn't think that's what she was doing to her daughter at the time — and apparently, neither did Brooke. "I didn't feel uncomfortable, nor did I feel embarrassed," she says of her younger days. "As a model, your job is just to be dressed and put out there, so I didn't have that awareness of my budding puberty. Because I was years away from any of that."
  • No one advised Brooke about her "Pretty Baby" kissing scene with Keith Carradine. When it came to her acting performance in "Pretty Baby," Brooke says that "no one helped me." "I was there to say these lines [and] to do it without any education about how to do it," she adds, per director Louis Malle's direction for the film. For her first kiss scene — which was also her first kiss in real life — Brooke reveals she would scrunch her face up every time Carradine leaned in, which also upset Malle. She says that Carradine told her that their kiss "doesn't count" as he saw it as a moment just for the movie.
  • Brooke's mother "didn't even bat an eye" at her provocative commercial work and onscreen roles. Despite what critics were saying about Teri signing Brooke up for sexualized projects like "Pretty Baby," the actor says her mother was more concerned about her having less tutor time because of long days filming on sets vs. the overly-sexual roles she played at a young age. "She was always there controlling everything behind the scenes, but she didn't hover, she didn't always go on the set with me," Brooke shares. "My mom was happy with that because she [was like,] 'I could go to the bar and drink.'"
  • Brooke felt most safe, emotionally, when she was on a movie set. As her mother's alcoholism worsened, Brooke says she saw movie sets as a safe haven. "I craved the routine of a job because there were other people around, I could lose myself in it, and I only had to be responsible for myself," she explains.
  • Brooke was "hurt more by the breach of trust and friendship" with photographer Garry Gross than the nature of the nude photos he took of her when she was 10 years old. In 1985, Brooke, with her mother's permission, posed nude in a bathtub for a photo shoot with Gross. Her mother then sued the photographer six years later when he tried to use them commercially against their wishes, though he ultimately won the case in 1983 — a Court of Appeals ruled that Brooke could not break a contract her mother signed in 1975 granting Gross permission to use the photos, per The New York Times. In regards to the public controversy and court case, Brooke says she was hurt more by how the men associated with it treated her. "It was as low rent, low class, there was zero integrity in it, and to me, that was so angering and hurtful," she notes.
  • Brooke disassociated while filming her intimate scenes in "Endless Love." While filming the 1981 romantic drama — which follows the passionate love affair of two teenagers — with costar Martin Hewitt, Brooke reveals that she didn't trust director Franco Zeffirelli to "create a safe environment" for her, recalling how he'd twist her toe in pain so her face could illustrate "ecstasy" during love scenes because the then 15-year-old was sexually inexperienced. Brooke goes on to recount how she'd disassociate during filming because she didn't want to appear "stupid" or "untalented." "I was really shut down after that," she says. "I thought of myself as just the sort of workhorse. They paid me, I did the thing, they sold it, everybody's happy. It's transactional."
"Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields" | Part Two Revelations
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

"Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields" | Part Two Revelations

  • Brooke had a boyfriend when Michael Jackson claimed that the two were dating. When asked who he was dating at the time during his 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey, Jackson revealed that he was seeing Brooke. However, the actor says she was shocked by the revelation because she was already in a relationship. "I called him, and I said, 'I'm actually currently with a boyfriend in New York City. What are you doing?'" Brooke recalls.
  • Brooke was allegedly raped shortly after she graduated from college during what she thought was meant to be a work meeting. After graduating from Princeton in 1987, Brooke says she met up with a man she knew previously to discuss career opportunities as she struggled to find new work following her early success. After their dinner meeting, Brooke recalls going to the unnamed man's hotel room after he offered to have her wait there and call a cab. She says he disappeared for a while, during which time she busied herself with a pair of binoculars in the room and watched some volleyball players play outside the window. "The door opens, the person comes out naked, and I've got the binoculars, and I'm like, 'Sh*t,'" she says, panicked. "I put the binoculars down, and he's right on me. Just like, was wrestling." Brooke says she didn't try to put up a fight out of fear she'd "get choked out or something." "I just absolutely froze. I thought one 'No' should've been enough, and I just thought, 'Stay alive and get out,' and I just shut it out," she continued. "God knows I knew how to be disassociated from my body. I'd practiced that." After the incident, Brooke says she fled from the hotel and "cried all the way to my friend's apartment," but still had trouble processing what happened to her. She then confided in her security specialist, Gavin de Becker, who told her, "'That's rape.'" "I said, 'I'm not willing to believe that,'" Brooke concludes.
  • Brooke wrote her attacker a letter after the alleged assault. "I said, 'You know, that was a huge trust that was just blown up and disintegrated,'" the actor wrote to her assailant, but says her words were dismissed. Looking back on the assault, Brooke notes, "I just threw my hands up and thought, 'You know what, I refuse to be a victim because this is something that happens no matter who you are and no matter what you think you're prepared for or not.' I wanted to erase the whole thing from my mind and body and just keep on the path I was on. The system had never once come to help me. So I just had to get stronger on my own."
  • Brooke says firing her mother as her manager was "the most violent thing" she had ever done. In 1995, Brooke fired Teri after years of dealing with her alcoholism because she wanted to elevate her acting career. She recalls completely clearing out their joint office building, taking all of her archives and some of Teri's belongings, after which her mother disappeared for a few days. "Eventually she surfaced, and she just couldn't believe [it]," Brooke says, adding that she told Teri, "'I'm just so sorry. I didn't know any other way." The actor says Teri never forgave her for firing her and even discussed the decision in public interviews.
  • Brooke regrets her failed marriage with her ex-husband Agassi. Brooke and Agassi divorced in 1999 after less than two years of marriage. Though the two initially formed a bond over their shared experience with overbearing parents and child stardom, Brooke reveals that their relationship should have never developed into anything romantic. "We should've just been friends. I don't think we should've ever been husband and wife," she shares. "We weren't meant to be each other's lifelong partners."

"If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault and would like to speak with someone who is trained to assist sexual assault survivors, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673."