Blonde: What it takes to adapt Marilyn Monroe to Netflix

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The upcoming Netflix adaptation Blonde must tell a story about Marilyn Monroe that avoids objectification and a disingenuous narrative. Monroe was a popular actress, singer, and sex symbol in Hollywood and remained a vibrant and strong personality regardless of the pitfalls she faced. The book Blonde paints a fictionalized picture of Monroe’s turbulent life so the film should be careful and avoid exploiting or victimizing her.

Blonde is loosely based on the book of the same name by author Joyce Carol Oates. Oates has stated that her written chronicle of icon Marilyn Monroe’s life beyond the cameras is not a biography and entirely fictional. Actress Ana De Armas, from Knives Out, will be playing Monroe and the film will catalog her life similar to the novel, following her rise to fame up until her fatal downfall. The official teaser Netflix released on June 16 stirred up hype for the film yet sparked concerned discussions about the issues in portraying a false narrative of Marilyn’s life.

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Even with the assurance that Blonde will not be a true-to-life account, it remains a story about Marilyn’s lifestyle and needs to avoid perpetuating narratives that are harmful to Monroe and other women. Being one of the biggest historical figures in pop culture, Marilyn Monroe is often seen as larger than life. The excessive objectification and exploitation she faced because of this still affects her legacy and should not be used as plot devices to victimize her, a problem the book is critiqued for. The film must respect Marilyn Monroe’s talent, achievements, and strengths while also respectfully shining a light on the struggles that manifested with her stardom.

How Blonde Can Avoid Creating A Disingenuous Narrative

Blonde may face problems films like Bohemian Rhapsody did when telling a story of a real individual’s life after their passing. Bohemian Rhapsody is a biopic, unlike Blonde. The movie faced criticisms for its disingenuous portrayal of Freddie Mercury since he was not alive to confirm the script’s honesty. Oates’ book depicts instances in Marilyn’s life that are risky to translate to screen in a massively influential film industry without Monroe’s input. Director Andrew Dominik stated in an interview that a sexual assault scene from the novel will be in the film (via Screen Daily).

The fact that Blonde isn’t a biopic increases the likelihood Monroe’s personal voice will get lost in translation particularly by dramatizing tragic circumstances in her real life. To avoid strengthening harmful or exploitative narratives, the film should make it clear that Marilyn Monroe’s actual reports and insights were taken into account during production. It is important to bring sexist power dynamics within Hollywood to light and her story is more relevant than ever. However, if the tragedies she faced are used solely as shock value or thematic devices, Blonde may end up exploiting her.

The Criticism Of Monroe’s Tragedy Exploitation Explained

Oates’ novel has received criticism for its exploitative portrayal of Marilyn Monroe. In her review (via January Magazine), acclaimed author Margaret Gunning critiques the book for using dehumanizing language that reduces Monroe to “something less than a human being.” Gunning also points out that the immoderate dissection of every bad moment in Monroe’s life “feels like a sort of voyeurism.” If the Blonde adaptation ignores these criticisms, the film may add to the exploitation of the tragedy that led to her untimely death. Her marital, drug, and sexualization struggles do not define her and Blonde can avoid implying they do by treating her story with the appropriate compassion. She is often treated too much as an ideal, her third husband Arthur Miller famously having admitted in a journal being “disappointed” and “embarrassed” with Monroe, his “sex symbol” wife. She needs to be humanized in Blonde, with empathy, not sympathy, so that Monroe is no longer objectified as an example of an ideal or a tragedy.

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Why Blonde Must Change The Overt Sexualization Of Marilyn Monroe’s Legacy

A big talking point surrounding Netflix’s upcoming Monroe film is that Blonde will be rated NC-17 because it apparently contains “some sexual content.” There’s nothing inherently bad with a Marilyn Monroe feature having sex scenes or nudity, especially since she’s one of the most popular and influential sex symbols in American history. Monroe was a major contributor to the sexual liberation movements of the 1960s and became an icon for women who wanted guidance to express and empower themselves. However, Monroe experienced heavy objectification because of her status. If Blonde focuses too much on sex, it may detract from the humanization she requires in this story. It may also objectify her the way the press still does.

Marilyn Monroe wasn’t just Hollywood’s sex symbol throughout her career. She was a civil rights advocate and feminist icon, but in a time when misogyny and “slut shaming” were more acceptable, salacious rumors overtook Monroe’s legacy. It’s true that she’s remembered for her exceptional kindness and bubbly persona but is likely remembered more for sensational rumors such as her supposed affair with President John F. Kennedy. Blonde has a chance to reverse the overt sexualization that still dominates Marilyn Monroe’s memory in the public eye. Sex should be used in the narrative as an indicator of the empowerment she inspired in women at the time, rather than further exploiting her legacy with it.

With only an official teaser released, it remains uncertain how much of Blonde is extrapolated from the fictionalized book. Casting Ana De Armas in the role of Marilyn Monroe was a perfect choice and the trailer already proves her dedication to Monroe as the human being beyond the veil of stardom. Netflix’s Blonde must treat Monroe’s legacy with respect and enough credibility so the film doesn’t become part of her larger exploitation.