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Sexualized Innocence Revisited with The Blue Lagoon available on Netflix

The 1980 film The Blue Lagoon is a movie famous enough for most people to be familiar with the name but it’s one that usually stays within the opinions of indifference. On the surface, the movie (an adaptation of the 1908 book) can be categorized as a coming of age tale about two kids (that are actually cousins) who find themselves marooned on an island and eventually fall in love. When you dig a bit deeper into the film's production history, the execution of the story, and the cultural reaction, it makes one wonder: is this movie even okay to watch? As of now, the film is available to watch on Netflix, and throughout this article I want to ask you the question

- Should The Blue Lagoon be taken down from Netflix?

This would not be the first time Netflix has been asked to take down a film because its content sexualizes young girls. The French-Senegalese movie, Cuties (2020), has been heavily criticized due to its cast of young girls and the way that both in the movie and in its promotion has endorsed hyper-sexualization of girls. In 2021, Turkey had the film banned from Netflix, their Ministry of Family and Social Policy stating that Cuties "may cause children to be open to negligence and abuse, and negatively impact their psychosocial development."Additionally, the film has an 18+ rating, making Cuties a movie for an older audience, whereas the film appears to be for children. There is the same issue with The Blue Lagoon and its R rating. When dealing with older movies like The Blue Lagoon, it’s not uncommon to find these films no longer appropriate or just simply offensive. For example, in 2017 Vietnam had Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) taken down, and in 2015 New Zealand had the documentary The Bridge (2006) banned. As it’s becoming increasingly easier for anyone at any age with access to the internet to watch any movie they please, it becomes important that we are able to critically examine these films and ask the question if they are harmful or just outdated.

The Blue Lagoon stars, at the time of filming, 18 year old Christopher Atkins as Richard and 14 year old Brooke Shields as Emmeline. Atkins and Shields spend the majority of the film either fully nude or partially covered in small pieces of fabric, and in Shields’ case, her long hair that was glued to cover her breasts. As the viewer, you are taken on Richard and Emmeline’s journey into discovering their sexuality, which literally means watching multiple, drawn-out scenes of softcore porn.

It is uncomfortable watching a 14 year old be intimate with a 18 year old. It seems quite simple to me: not only should a minor not have been cast in that role, but there is no need for lengthy scenes involving minors (whether the actors themselves are minors or their characters are minors) kissing and touching each other’s naked body.

Director Randal Kleiser admitted to People magazine that he tried to get Atkins and Shields to fall in love in real life - he did this by placing a picture of Shields’ in Atkin’s bunk, saying "I wanted him to look at her every night before he went to sleep. Naturally, by the time she arrived, he was in love with her.". It is important to note that even though Kleiser’s behavior was inappropriate, and Shields’ role in the film was beyond her years, she has always stood by the fact that the movie did no harm to her.

The Blue Lagoon, some may argue, is a movie for kids, however the movie earned an R rating. This was something Randal Kleiser was vocally displeased with, as he believed that it would be a misinterpretation of the movie to say it was for adults - and that if adults were watching the movie for “kiddie porn” they wouldn’t find it in The Blue Lagoon. They would find, however, shots of a fully nude Brooke Shields. But these shots were not actually of Shield’s 14 year old body, but of Valerie Taylor, a 30 year old woman used as one of her body doubles. While using a 30 year old body to represent a 14 year old’s is in and of itself problematic and misleading, you should not be showing a 14 year old naked in the first place. The nudity in The Blue Lagoon is not the sole issue here either. If the movie is for kids, it needs to handle the topic of sex and consent better. It does not matter if it’s “realistic”or “relatable”, what matters is that they are shown examples of healthy, consenting relationships. It’s okay to show kids figuring out their bodies and their relationships to one another, and by no means does it have to be perfect, but there is a responsibility to set examples if your audience is impressionable children.

To paint a picture of what I mean, I’ll give an example: when Richard first attempts to have sex with Emmeline she says no, which leads him to start touching her hair as she sleeps and when Emmeline wakes up she is understandably upset. Richard begins to ignore Emmeline, and it continues to create tension in their relationship. They eventually start having sex, and suddenly their relationship is better than ever. When Emmeline suddenly doesn’t want to, Richard becomes increasingly upset to which he eventually says “Don’t you love me anymore?”. At one point, Richard comments on Emmeline eating and states “You’re getting fat”. It may be “realistic” or “relatable” to have these same issues in a young relationship. The way Richard behaves towards Emmeline, in some ways, may be relatable, but for a young audience that has nothing to relate to, it sets an example. Simply put, it reinforces the idea that women owe men sex, especially women in relationships. If we want to show kids movies that are real and raw, it’s important that these movies help set standards for having healthy, consensual relationships with oneself and others.

Moving past the storyline and production history of The Blue Lagoon, an important aspect of what makes this movie problematic is the disturbing treatment of Brooke Shields in the media. Prior to The Blue Lagoon, 12 year old Shields played a child prostitute in the film Pretty Baby. Two years before that, Shields’ mother had 10 year old Brooke take nude pictures for Playboy. Shields’ has spoken on these controversies, saying once “I was very sequestered from all of it in my real life. I was a virgin till I was 22, so it was all pretend in my mind. I was an actress.” Shields’ own promotion of her virginity is key to how she was treated as a young woman in the media. Neurologist Sigmeund Freud identified the Madonna-Whore Complex, where in this theory men view women as either forthcoming sex objects or virginal and pure. Brooke Shields was sexualized, but she was Madonna, not the whore. In a piece for The Guardian, Tom Shone writes she was a “chaste teenager whose innocence was a national institution”. A perfect example of this was Shields’ famous ad for Calvin Klein, where the 15 year old delivers the line “You know what gets between me and my Calvins? Nothing”. In a 2019 review of The Blue Lagoon, Abbey Bender writes “the fact that she doesn’t know exactly what sex is is supposed to make you feel better about watching her have it”, her innocence is supposed to seep into the film, dulling it down to what Randal Kleiser described as “love and sex being clean and innocent, untained by all of society”.

Brooke Shields’ innocence and her simultaneously adult material leads into a larger conversation surrounding a culture that is obsessed with young girls.

The Blue Lagoon is part of this discussion, amidst a large list of other movies who cast minors in roles that are either inherently sexual or get sexualised. As much as Brooke Shields' may have promoted her virginity and openly spoke out against using drugs of any kind (to which, let’s be very clear, there is nothing wrong with) it was her mother that was obsessed with creating an image of Shields’ that was seductive and beautiful but at the same time maintained innocent childlike attributes and behaviors. It was instances like her mother calling her “Little Brookie” and insisting that the 1982 Brooke Shields doll had a flatter chest, while also placing her in the Pretty Baby role and commissioning nude photographs of 10 year old Shields.

Alicen Grey in 2015 coined the term “pedophile culture” that in part describes the beauty standard that revolves around thinness, soft unaged skin that remains hairless, and eternal youthfulness.

In The Blue Lagoon, one journalist described Brooke Shields as having a sultry face and a childlike body. Amongst other things, she was called “jailbait” for her role as Emmeline. Pedophile culture for The Blue Lagoon means Brooke Shields couldn’t have just been a 14 year old playing a castaway. It means that her role made her jailbait. It means that her role placed focus on her beauty which was only complimented and emphasized by her innocence and virginity.

The production history, the execution of the story, and the cultural reaction to The Blue Lagoon makes this film one that I feel as though no one ought to watch. While the points I have just listed are up for debate, there is one aspect of this movie that is undoubtedly problematic that I would like to emphasize again: Brooke Shields was 14 years old. Her co-star was 18 years old. There are multiple love scenes between the both of them. It is more than uncomfortable to watch - no one should be watching a 14 year old act intimately.

So the question still stands: should The Blue Lagoon be removed from Netflix?

If you agree, please sign our petition to remove The Blue Lagoon from Netflix here.

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