‘Pretty Baby’ Director Requested Brooke Shields’ Permission to Keep Sexual Assault Allegations in Doc

"I want you to feel completely comfortable with it if it goes out into the world," Lana Wilson recalled telling her subject.
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
"Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields"
Sundance Film Festival

In the Sundance documentary premierePretty Baby: Brooke Shields,” the titular actor and model talks candidly about her struggles with fame at a young age. One of the most emotional interviews included in the film sees Shields describe an alleged sexual assault in her early twenties at the hands of an unnamed film producer.

Although the interview is an important part of the film, director Lana Wilson, who previously directed Taylor Swift’s “Miss Americana” documentary, wasn’t sure it would make the final cut. In an interview with Yahoo Entertainment, Wilson revealed that, although she otherwise had full creative control over the finished film, she made an exception and made sure she had Shields’ full approval to use the interview about her sexual assault in the final cut.

“‘I want you to feel completely comfortable with it if it goes out into the world,'” Wilson recalled telling Shields to Yahoo. She said that after the film was finished, Shields approved keeping the interview in, thinking it was “sensitively handled.”

Wilson further told Yahoo that Shields brought up her sexual assault during their first meeting to discuss the documentary, telling the director, “There’s one thing I’ve never talked about publicly before, but I think I’m ready.” In spite of Shields’ willingness to share the experience, Wilson was hesitant from the beginning to include it.

“I did think it was a really powerful story right away,” Wilson said. “I also told her, ‘I don’t think we should make any decision now on whether it’s in the film or not, because it depends on what the movie is. I don’t think we should include this just because it’s new. I don’t want to include your experience of sexual assault as like a news item. I only think it should be in there if it’s an integral part of the focus and the story of this film. So let’s talk about it in an interview and and let me bring it into the edit and see.'”

Ultimately, as the two sat for interviews and Wilson began developing the project further, she came to see the sexual assault story as an important piece of the film. “I saw it as the ultimate violation of Brooke’s autonomy — physically, mentally, emotionally,” Wilson said. “It’s hard for me to imagine the film without it.”

“Pretty Baby,” named after the controversial 1978 film that featured on-screen nudity from a 12-year old Shields, made its world premiere at Sundance on January 20.

The documentary received largely positive reviews; in a more mixed write-up, IndieWire executive editor Kate Erbland wrote that “while no one should have to excavate decades of pain to tee up a compelling documentary, that Shields is never truly pressed regarding some of the bigger questions of her life — particularly in the first part of the doc, which is dedicated to her childhood and youth — leaves the entire endeavor feeling oddly fractured, a wholly incomplete portrait.”

Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields” is now streaming on Hulu.

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