She doesn’t name the man who she said raped her, but she described the circumstances: It took place soon after she graduated college with someone she knew professionally and had met for dinner to discuss work. The assault happened when she went to his hotel room to call a cab.
“I didn’t fight that much. I just absolutely froze,” she says in the film. “I thought my one ‘no’ should have been enough.” Later, when she told her friend, security specialist Gavin de Becker, about what happened, he said, “That’s rape.” At the time she wasn’t ready to believe it.
It is just one of many revelations in “Pretty Baby,” a nuanced look at Shields’ life up until now including her rise to fame, her complicated relationship with her mother Teri Shields, who was an alcoholic, and how the media, from the entertainment industry to the journalists interviewing her, commodified her sexualization at a young age while shaming her at the same time. The film will be on Hulu later this year.
Directed by Lana Wilson, the documentary takes its name from Louis Malle’s 1978 film “Pretty Baby,” a drama about a young sex worker, played by an 11-year-old Shields, in New Orleans in 1917. In the film, she kisses a 29-year-old Keith Carradine and also appears nude.
It wasn’t the first, nor would it be the last time she was sexualized by the media. At 15, she shot “Blue Lagoon,” then came “Endless Love.” Both had sex and nudity. And then there were those Calvin Klein denim ads. When she was 16 and a global star, a family friend and photographer tried to sell nude photos he took of her when she was 9. Her mother sued. They went to court. The photographer won.
Brooke Shields on filming nude scenes in ‘Blue Lagoon’: ‘It wouldn’t be allowed’ today
Shields, who has written two memoirs, has been approached about documentaries before and always said no. But now 57, with a kid going off to college, the encouragement of her friend Ali Wentworth and a generally good feeling about where she is in life after years of therapy, Shields felt the time was right.
As Wilson said, “She was ready to go there,” including speaking about her time at Princeton, her friendship with Michael Jackson, her turbulent relationship with Andre Agassi and the time Tom Cruise criticized her use of antidepressants for post-partum depression. (He’d later apologize.)
“How can you form your identity in a society that defines you exclusively by your status as a sexual object?” Wilson said. “It’s something a lot of women and girls navigate privately and Brooke was having to do it in public.”
“Pretty Baby,” Wilson said, is not comprehensive by any means. There are things in the memoirs that aren’t in the film. But there is a cultural context, and the throughline is Brooke’s journey to gaining agency, over her mind, her career, her identity.
Choosing to speak about the sexual assault and is just one part of that.
“She is so honest and candid about how hard she was on herself, about the experience, how she blamed herself in so many ways that I think are heartbreaking to hear, but also very relatable,” Wilson said. “It’s something she’s grappled with for a long time and is grappling with still. Getting a window into that experience that isn’t neatly resolved is powerful.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Brooke Shields describes rape in ‘Pretty Baby’ documentary at Sundance