Viewers of the new ‘Blonde’ film on Netflix have major concerns about the way that women like Marilyn Monroe are portrayed.
Their have been idolised for decades and the stories of their lives have been closely followed from the beginning of their stardom until the tragic end – and are still being discussed to this day – so it’s no wonder people had high expectations for this movie.
Netflix released the movie Blonde in late September 2022, depicting the “rise to fame and the epic demise of actress Marilyn Monroe”. The film, starring Ana De Armas, is based on the 2000 novel by Joyce Carol Oates, which is a fictionalised account inspired by the life of Monroe. Oates has insisted that the novel is a “work of fiction” and should not be regarded as a biography.
Since its release, the film has received a lot of attention; social media users on platforms such as TikTok have been reviewing the movie, with some describing it as a “grotesque romanticisation of a woman’s trauma.”
“Hollywood is so stubborn!! They refuse to listen and are not with the times at all. Too bad they are losing their grip on us,” one user wrote on TikTok.
“It’s not even accurate for her life story they just used her name and image to promote this weird movie,” another wrote.
Director Andrew Dominik was originally asked about the graphic content of his movie, which led the film to be rated suitable only for viewers over 17 years-old: “There’s something in it to offend everyone, if the audience doesn’t like it, that’s the fucking audience’s problem. It’s not running for public office.”
A similar concern is the current production of the upcoming season of The Crown which has yet to depict Princess Diana’s death. The production team have said to feel a “level of anxiety” on set as they prepare to film the lead-up to her death.
After the backlash against Blonde and listening to the public’s concerns, the production team has since released that they will not show Princess Diana’s death to handle it “sensitively”.
So, why is there public distress about the potential exploitation of these women’s lives?
Film critic Arianna Garcia, who currently writes for the Daily Trojan in Los Angeles, has addressed reasons for the uproar surrounding the movie, as well as the depiction of women in these types of media.
“Famous women that have met a tragic end have been sexualised for men for as long as we know,” she told us. “This movie was directed by a man. In 2022 films like this should be directed from a lived experience. I think that’s why so many women are outraged. It doesn’t feel right.”
She added that this was an opportunity to make a “great movie about an amazing woman” and that the depiction of her as a person in this movie is “extremely 2D”.
Actress and model Emily Ratajkowski has also voiced their displeasure with the movie, and in a viral TikTok she stated that the movie has been less-than-flattering and further perpetuates harmful theatrical tropes involving women.
“We love to fetishise female pain,” Ratajkowski begins. “Look at Amy Winehouse, look at Britney Spears, look at the way we obsess over Diana’s death, look at the way we obsess over dead girls and serial killers watch any CSI episode and it’s like this crazy fetishisation of female pain and death.”
Ratajkowski adds that as a woman, she herself has learned to fetishise her own pain and hurt throughout her life so that it can seem “sexy.”
“I want that to change,” she says in the video. “But I was thinking about it and you know what’s kinda hard to fetishise? Anger. Anger is hard to fetishise, so I have a proposal. I think we all need to be a little more pissed off.”
Ratajowski’s statements sparked a wave of responses on TikTok, with some supporting the model’s comments. “It’s no coincidence female poets get notoriety after they die and experience violent ends,” one user wrote. “They didn’t do Elvis the same way it’s so unfair,” another user wrote.
Since both the Blonde novel and film are fictionalised versions of Monroe’s life, many viewers were upset that uncomfortable scenes depicting her being subjected to and reconciling with abuse were created purely for shock value.
One scene in particular touches on a rumoured abortion that haunted the Hollywood star, which was criticised by Planned Parenthood and other viewers who argued that the film took a strong anti-choice stance.
“For some INEXPLICABLE reason the camera pans INSIDE HER VAGINAL CANAL??” Researcher Steph Herold, studying abortion on TV & film, tweeted. She added that the movie is “so anti-abortion, so sexist, so exploitative” and that she “canNOT recommend it LESS”.
Caren Spurch, the national director of the arts and entertainment for Planned Parenthood released a statement to The Hollywood Reporter that touches on Blonde’s abortion scene: “false images only serve to reinforce misinformation and perpetuate stigma around sexual and reproductive health care. It is a shame that the creators of Blonde chose to contribute to anti-abortion propaganda and stigmatize people’s health care decisions instead.”
Critic Manohla Dargis’ take on the movie is that it doesn’t go deep enough into who Norma Jeane, Monroe’s original name, is as a person, and that the movie doesn’t break any new ground; she says that it paints Marilyn as a woman who was born to suffer and that Dominik’s filmmaking is adhering to the male gaze.
“Dominik is so far up Marilyn Monroe’s vagina in Blonde that he can’t see the rest of her. It’s easy to dismiss the movie as arty trash; undoubtedly it’s a missed opportunity. Monroe’s life was tough, but there was more to it than Dominik grasps, the proof of which is in the films she left behind – Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, Some Like It Hot, The Misfits – the whole damn filmography,” she said.
“To judge from Blonde, her performances were shaped by her agonies and somehow happened by chance, by fate, or because she’s a mystical, magical sex bomb. That’s grotesque, and it’s wrong. But if Dominik isn’t interested in or capable of understanding that Monroe was indeed more than a victim of the predations of men, it’s because, in this movie, he himself slipped into that wretched role.”
Artefact has reached out to Andrew Dominik for further comment.
Feature image by pure julia via Unsplash