Blonde mirrors a damaging perspective

We may never know full truth of Marilyn Monroe but this portrayal was nothing close to it

Lillian Hoover

More stories from Lillian Hoover


Lillian Hoover

If the film actually followed the actress’s biography with accuracy, it may not have been so controversial. Instead, the film provides such a liberal and misogynist interpretation of her life that will probably lead to even greater misunderstanding of the complicated and talented woman.

Talking fetuses, sexual assault, suicide, abortion, all wrapped in an NC-17 package, it’s no wonder the recently released movie “Blonde” directed by Andrew Dominik has enticed so much controversy.

Blonde is based on the novel of the same name by Joyce Carol Oates about the life of Marilyn Monroe. While the film is labelled a “biopic,” it is a highly fictionalized and dramatized vision of her life. 

The film begins with a brief glimpse of Monroe at the pinnacle of her stardom, and then flashes back to her frightening childhood with a schizophrenic mother. The film then follows her rise to fame in Hollywood, ending with her tragic death at age 36 by an overdose of sleeping pills.

If the film actually followed the actress’s biography with accuracy, it may not have been so controversial. Instead, the film provides such a liberal and misogynist interpretation of her life that will probably lead to even greater misunderstanding of the complicated and talented woman.

The movie contains graphic depictions of violence, tragedy, rape and abortion. Trigger warnings should definitely accompany this movie. Her childhood shows her mother’s mental health issues and even a near drowning of a young Monroe in the bathtub. The first sexual assault occurs when Monroe visits a film studio and is assaulted by the studio executive. Later, there is another disturbing assault.

The reluctant abortion scenes in the movie are particularly disturbing. In one abortion scene, the point of view is from the inside of her vagina looking out, to an operating room full of people. Later in the movie, Monroe carries out a conversation with a CGI fetus who asks her “You won’t hurt me this time, will you?” Abortion rights activists have correctly pointed out that these scenes contribute to “anti-abortion propaganda.”

 Caren Spruch, director of arts and entertainment engagement for Planned Parenthood told The Hollywood Reporter that “It is a shame that the creators of Blonde chose to contribute to anti-abortion propaganda and stigmatize people’s health care decisions instead.” 

Regarding such criticism, Dominik told USA Today that “I don’t think it has anything to say about Roe v. Wade.”

The NC-17 rating alone has been enough to cause controversy. Blonde is the first Netflix original movie to receive this rating, largely due to its sexual content. Such a rating typically leads to a blow to the film’s budget, as the NC-17 rating results in a smaller viewing audience, since no one under 17 is allowed to view. 

Perhaps this is not as large of an issue for Netflix, since anyone without parental controls over their online viewing can see the film. In an interview with ScreenDaily, Dominik said that the rating was “a bunch of horses*t” and further that “It’s a demanding movie. If the audience doesn’t like it, that’s the f**king audience’s problem. It’s not running for public office.”

What this film misses entirely is the other side of Marilyn Monroe. She was a talented and gifted actress. Her on-screen personality may have frequently been that of a “dumb blonde” or a “blonde bombshell,” but the academic Sarah Churchwell, who studied Marilyn Monroe, said that “The dumb blonde was a role—she was an actress, for heaven’s sake! Such a good actress that no one now believes she was anything but what she portrayed on screen.” 

Monroe studied at the Actors’ Studio in New York City and even formed her own production company Marilyn Monroe Productions after becoming frustrated with 20th Century Fox who held her contract. Fox eventually awarded her a new contract and a higher salary. 

Over the course of her career, Monroe starred in 23 films that spanned from dramas to comedies. The films grossed more than $200 million in their first runs, roughly equivalent to $2 billion today. 

Monroe also had an interest in politics with very liberal views for her time, none of which was portrayed in the film. Having grown up in poverty and having a foster father who worked in a largely African-American neighbourhood, it is not surprising that her views on race were so progressive.       She was even warned when filming “All About Eve” to not be seen by studio execs reading radical books on the set. In the 1960s she became a founding member of the Hollywood branch of the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy. She was also elected as an alternate delegate to the Connecticut Democratic caucus and was a supporter of the early Civil Rights movement as it gathered strength in the 1960’s

Monroe even had progressive viewpoints with respect to sexuality. She rose to the defense of the gay actor Montgomery Clift and was quoted as saying, “no sex is wrong if there’s love in it.” 

This is not the first time that Hollywood aimed at its female icons. Movie critics have also pointed out that other recent films labelled “biopics” have focused on the tragedy, exploitation, and despair in these stars’ lives.  

For example, the 2019 movie “Judy” portrays the later part of Judy Garland’s life, which also ended in an overdose.  Similarly, the movie “Pam & Tommy” which tells the story of the couple’s sex tape scandal, places the scandal in the spotlight, at a time when the real Pamela Anderson chose not to be involved, and reported told a source close to her that she felt “violated.” Once again the tape and its tragic release that destroyed her career is being made public again, with Hollywood profiting.  

Are we really surprised that Hollywood continues to exploit Monroe and profit from her suffering even in her death? Marilyn Monroe led a fascinating life, focusing on the true events of her reality off set could have made an engaging film, without the need for trigger warnings and an NC-17 rating.”