Netflix’s film adaptation of the novel, Blonde, by Joyce Carol Oates, has been controversial from the outset. After the trailer’s release, there was backlash over casting Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe, with complaints that de Armas’ Cuban and Spanish ethnicity and accent are not an authentic representation of Monroe. Next, the film received criticism over its graphic scenes of sexual abuse. Fans of Marilyn Monroe thought the film was exploitative and a disgrace to her legacy. Some audience members thought that the film was sexist, anti-abortion and that it highly catered to the male gaze.
However, when asked about her thoughts on the film by a fan on Twitter, Joyce Carol Oates, the author of the fictional book Blonde that the film is based on, said she thought that the film was “a brilliant work of cinematic art”. The bestselling novel, published in 2000, is a fictionalised take on Marilyn Monroe’s life, from her childhood all the way through to her death. Oates has always stressed that the novel is not a biography and that it doesn’t follow any historical facts about Marilyn Monroe. This was also a point of controversy for the film.
In her thoughts on the film, Oates went on to say that it was “obviously not for everyone”. But that she was surprised “that in a post #MeToo era the stark exposure of sexual predation in Hollywood has been interpreted as “exploitation.” surely Andrew Dominik meant to tell Norma Jeane’s story sincerely.” She added that Blonde is “not a film for the faint of heart. The director is unflinching, intransigent. The last 20 minutes or so are almost too powerful to be viewed. Over all, brilliant cinematography & performance by Ana de Armas.”
Oates also defended the film’s graphic sexual assault scenes, saying that: “for the young starlet Norma Jeane Baker, there was no possibility of her “telling”/ “reporting” a rape. no one would have believed a starlet, or cared; & she would have been dropped from the studio & blacklisted. so, the movie “Blonde” exposes the rape, 50 or 60 years later.”
Not many agree with Oates, it seems. Critical reception has been underwhelming, with the film receiving a score of only 42% on the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer, so far, with the general consensus being that ‘Ana de Armas’ luminous performance makes it difficult to look away, but Blonde can be hard to watch as it teeters between commenting on exploitation and contributing to it.’ The audience score is even less with only 32% and the audience’s general consensus is that ‘it doesn’t matter how well-acted or creatively filmed it is – watching Blonde is a really unpleasant experience.’
Blonde is currently available to stream on Netflix.