Netflix's long-awaited Marilyn Monroe film Blonde has been met with a wave of backlash after arriving on Netflix. But what's the criticism about? Here's a run-through of the Blonde controversy, explained.
To recap, Blonde stars Ana de Armas in the lead role as Marilyn, with actors Bobby Cannavale and Adrien Brody appearing to play Marilyn's husbands Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller respectively. The film is based on the novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates, which is intended to be a fictionalised take on Marilyn's life.
Arriving in cinemas on 23 September, and on Netflix the following the week, the film has been at the centre of widespread controversy, with viewers and celebrities - including the likes of Emily Ratajkowski - speaking out to criticise the project.
Why is Blonde receiving so much backlash?
The fictionalised story
Underlying all the Blonde criticism is the fact that the film is a work of biographical fiction, with the Marilyn shown on screen serving as an 'avatar' or 'caricature' of the real Marilyn Monroe. Viewers have called out the film for including factually inaccurate events (due to being fictionalised) - though still using Marilyn's name and image - as well as focusing largely on her suffering.
Model and actress Emily Ratajkowski recently addressed the topic in a TikTok video, where she criticised the film for "fetishising female pain, even in death," comparing Marilyn to the likes of Amy Winehouse and Princess Diana.
The film's portrayal of sexual assault and abortion
Another large point of controversy for Blonde is its depiction of abortion and sexual assault, with both storylines thought to divert from what really happened in Marilyn's life.
The film portrays Marilyn as having had two abortions against her will, with one scene showing her 'talking' to a CGI fetus. Planned Parenthood has since criticised the film for "contributing to anti-abortion propaganda".
Caren Spruch, Planned Parenthood’s director of arts and entertainment engagement, told The Hollywood Reporter in a statement: "While abortion is safe, essential health care, anti-abortion zealots have long contributed to abortion stigma by using medically inaccurate descriptions of fetuses and pregnancy. Andrew Dominik’s new film, Blonde, bolsters their message with a CGI-talking fetus, depicted to look like a fully formed baby."
Spruce went on to add, "It is a shame that the creators of Blonde chose to contribute to anti-abortion propaganda and stigmatize people’s health care decisions instead."
Critics have also taken issue with the film's numerous depictions of sexual assault, including one scene with US president JFK which is thought to be fabricated. Viewers online have called the graphic scene "horrifying" and "disgusting", while others have once again criticised the film for including factually-inaccurate and gratuitously graphic scenes.
Have any of the Blonde creators responded to backlash?
Prior to Blonde's release, director Andrew Dominik responded to backlash surrounding the film's high US NC-17 rating (which is one above an R-rating). However, his dismissal of the criticism has only provoked more upset from viewers.
Dominik told Screen Daily in February 2022, "It’s a demanding movie. If the audience doesn’t like it, that’s the f***ing audience’s problem. It’s not running for public office. It’s an NC-17 movie about Marilyn Monroe, it’s kind of what you want, right? I want to go and see the NC-17 version of the Marilyn Monroe story."
Following the comments, viewers also criticised Dominik for seeming to make a film based on what he wants, rather than what the audience might want.
Meanwhile, actor Adrien Brody (who plays The Playwright in Blonde) has defended the film against criticism, particularly focusing on the traumatic plot points. Brody told The Hollywood Reporter, "[T]he novel and the film are both rife with themes of exploitation and trauma. And Marilyn’s life, unfortunately, was full of that."
He went on, "I think that since it’s told in this first-person perspective, it works somehow for the film to be a traumatic experience, because you’re inside of her — her journey and her longings and her isolation — amidst all of this adulation. It’s brave and it takes a while to digest." Brody later added that Dominik's work is "fearless filmmaking."
Blonde is streaming now on Netflix.
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