CLAS professor Meenakshi Gigi Durham featured in Hulu docuseries Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields

Durham, a media and gender studies researcher in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was interviewed in the popular documentary.
Friday, May 19, 2023

By: Emily Delgado  

After being approached by Emmy-Award winning director Lana Wilson two years ago, Meenakshi Gigi Durham became part of Pretty Baby: Brooke Shields, a popular documentary streaming on Hulu.  

Gigi Durham
Meenakshi Gigi Durham

The movie explores actor, model, and global superstar Brooke Shields’ journey from a sexualized young girl to a woman who embraces her identity and voice. Durham, a professor appointed in both the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication and Department of Gender, Women and Sexuality studies says Wilson approached her because of a book she wrote. 

“Lana asked if she could interview me for the film; she had read my book The Lolita Effect, which she said she loved, and she knew of my research on the media sexualization of girls — she said my work had provided enormous depth and insight for the project,” Durham explains.  

In addition to her commitment to teaching at Iowa, Durham has researched the various ways the media plays a role in the construction of female gender roles and sexuality. Her research is a strong match for the topic, as the docu-series goes in-depth into the early sexualization of Shields and other young girls in America. Durham says the project was a good way to share some of her research with the public.   Brooke Shields documentary

“I want my work to have real-world application and help people think in different ways about media culture and gender roles in our society,” she explains. “So, I felt it was important to be part of this project and try to reach more people with these critical approaches.”  

This is not the first documentary or film Durham has been a part of. She shared her research in the film Miss Representation, which featured Katie Couric and Gloria Steinem, among other high-profile women and feminists.  

Durhman sees the project and the coverage it is receiving as a net positive for the university.  

“I think the film, which is garnering huge audiences, will reinforce the fact that the University of Iowa, SJMC, and GWSS, where I have a joint appointment, are sites of vital, publicly engaged research that makes a difference in the world,” Durham added.  

She is currently teaching a course on gender and media, and says it was a natural connection for her to share her research with the Hulu series creators.   

“I hope that my appearance in the film will encourage people of all genders and sexualities who want to study the media and its connection to gender and sexuality will recognize that the UI is a great place to do that,” Durham says.  

She adds that the university has been supportive of her involvement in outside films and research.   

The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers about 70 majors across the humanities; fine, performing and literary arts; natural and mathematical sciences; social and behavioral sciences; and communication disciplines. About 15,000 undergraduate and nearly 2,000 graduate students study each year in the college’s 37 departments, led by faculty at the forefront of teaching and research in their disciplines. The college teaches all Iowa undergraduates through the college's general education program, CLAS CORE. About 80 percent of all Iowa undergraduates begin their academic journey in CLAS. The college confers about 60 percent of the university's bachelor's degrees each academic year.