by Alexandra Levy, staff writer
NOVEMBER 2022 — The Marilyn Monroe biopic “Blonde” debuted Sept. 28 and sparked controversy in the genre’s fictionalization of Monroe’s life. A biopic is a biographical film that dramatizes the life of a non-fictional or historical figure. Biopics are a recent trend, with more than 50 biopics released within the past five years, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“Blonde” has been accused of being an inaccurate portrayal of Monroe, because Joyce Carol Oates’ fictional book inspired the movie.
Oates’ story is based loosely on Monroe’s life and fictionalizes her life events. Since this novel is fictional, “Blonde” has many historical inaccuracies. For example, the book details Monroe’s alleged affair with President John F. Kennedy as though it were true.
The historical inaccuracies would not be an issue, as Netflix marked “Blonde” as a fiction film; however, the creators and stars of the movie repeatedly said that they were telling the truth about Monroe’s life, opening the film to backlash from critics and historians about the depiction of Monroe.
Ana de Armas, who played Monroe in “Blonde,” defended the movie to AnOther magazine.
“We were asking for permission in a way. Everyone felt a huge responsibility, and we were very aware of the side of the story we were going to tell—the story of Norma Jeane, the person behind this character, Marilyn Monroe. Who was she really?” said de Armas in the interview.
“Blonde” writer and director Andrew Dominik expressed in the press release that this movie was his attempt to tell Monroe’s real story.
Dominik explained why he believes the film is a more accurate version of fiction on his website, stating, “I think ‘Blonde’ is a work of fiction and it’s got just as much Joyce in it as it does Marilyn. But having said that, I think it is probably closer to the truth than what other networks are pushing to sell Marilyn stuff.”
While the film attempts to tell an accurate and engaging story, it fails to tell a story of Monroe outside the male gaze with scenes of graphic rape and abuse. Monroe is depicted as a victim in almost every situation she finds herself in. She always resorts to abusive relationships, whether with a man or with the abuse she received from Hollywood.
While the film’s creators claimed to be subverting the usual sexualization of Monroe’s life that the pop culture icon is usually associated with, the movie continues to sexualize and torment her in a way that makes the movie nearly impossible to watch.
The movie could be considered to show Monroe’s side of the story by addressing her viewpoint of sexual exploitation. However, it does little to criticize these negative connotations around her life. It even reinforces them by having numerous explicit scenes that do little to do anything but sexualizing her — the very thing the creators said this movie would not be doing.
Before the release of “Blonde,” de Armas said that it was a feminist telling of her story and that the sex scenes were powerful. The alleged rape and sexual assault scenes were excessive and felt exploitative to Monroe as a person.
It is not just the historical inaccuracies and sex scenes that make “Blonde” a hard-to-watch movie, but rather the almost embarrassing portrayal of a person’s life.
The film made Monroe a caricature of a sexual bombshell rather than showing the multidimensional woman who described herself as shy and insecure outside her career.
To compare “Blonde” to another biopic released in 2022, “Elvis” details the life of Elvis Presley and has been praised for its portrayal of actual life events. Presley is historically viewed as a sex symbol, and the movie explains his sexualization from his agent’s point of view.
While “Elvis” is not told from the perspective of the main character’s point of view like “Blonde,” it can still feel as though it is more respectful to the actual person behind the character.
“Elvis” addresses being taken advantage of for money, fame, and sex in a less formal manner than “Blonde,” but the movie makes the viewer feel there is a complete person on the screen. It shows Elvis outside work and struggling with his relationships and drug addictions while not making that his only trait. It displays tragedy without the need to exploit every tragic event in the main character’s life, as “Blonde” does.
The difference in treatment of the main characters could be because “Elvis” is based on a male historical figure rather than a female historical figure. It gave Presley privacy in a movie about his lack of privacy in real life, whereas it felt like “Blonde” exploits the sexuality it claims to criticize.
The tone difference could be because of the variety in narration in biopics. Since the 2018 release of the Queen biopic, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” biopics have gained popularity, and with that, more diversity in storytelling is present.
The problem with the biopic genre is that it too heavily walks the line between being a story of a fictional character and a historical biography. The movies struggle to satisfy a large group of people: movie fans, historians, and fans of the person the biopic is centered around.
It is easy for a biopic to feel cheap, as it is just trying to appeal to the name recognition of the main character. At the same time, the movie lacksan engaging plot with too much fictionalization for historical accuracy.
“Blonde” is a film that genuinely displays the misuse of the biopic movie. It could have easily been about a fictional character with a different name and been considered an engaging look at sexuality for famous women in history; however, the movie tortures and sucks dry the already-exploited Monroe. If anything, its actual display of Monroe’s ongoing tragedy and abuse was the movie’s creation.