In 2000, American author Joyce Carol Oates published her novel “Blonde,” a fictionalized account of the life and struggles of Norma Jeane Mortenson, aka Marilyn Monroe. The book was well received by her time, seen not as a biography of Monroe’s life, but a manifestation of how people viewed her as both a personality and an object of hers.
Two decades later, its adaptation hasn’t had the same leeway.
“Blonde” (the film), distributed by Netflix and directed by Andrew Dominik, is in many ways the ultimate showcase for transforming media discourse in the age of social media.
Courting controversy for seemingly every aspect of its output, from its evaluation at his director at his story and picturesthe film experienced a long cycle of discussions on topics ranging from its depiction of Monroe to the ethics of including scenes of sexual assault.
Of course, “Blonde” isn’t the first film to be treated in this way. But with the importance of his speech, she brings up the conversation about how social media has changed the way people interact with media, especially when that media contains elements often considered taboo.
For a topic to go viral, there has to be a spark, said Jacob Lassin, a visiting assistant professor who teaches social media cultures (COM 325) in the University of Miami’s Department of Media, Journalism, and Film.
“These things are often worth the snow,” Lassin said. “The way algorithms work is that when someone starts getting a little bit of attention, they start getting a little bit more attention. And that can grow and grow and grow from there.
With “Blonde,” that spark came in the form of it trailer and the announcement that the film would be rated NC-17.
In the 2010s, only eight films received the rating, which is the highest that can be awarded by the Motion Picture Association (MPA). Filmmakers are usually told by studios to avoid content that would get an NC-17, both due to a public stigma around it and the fact that many major theatrical distributors refuse to show films with the rating.
“Blonde” was awarded NC-17 for “some sexual content,” a vague descriptor that manifests itself in the finished film as several topless scenes and some Monroe scenes (played by Ana de Armas) and three scenes involving abuse and rape .
Dominik defended the film in interviews leading up to its release, even offering his take on the film’s rating.
“That’s just the evaluation committee that’s political,” Dominik said in a interview with Screen Daily. “If I watch an episode of ‘Euphoria,’ it’s so much more graphic than anything that happens on ‘Blonde.'”
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These claims have not helped matters, in fact, they have only made it worse.
“If certain groups or individuals want a story to be told a certain way, they’re able to get that initial momentum,” Lassin said. “They can really drive how people see things because there really isn’t the kind of oversight that you see from more traditional media.”
Discussion over the film’s content continued to rage, with speculation about what could have caused the film to be given an NC-17 rating. Even with Dominik’s attempts to clarify, people on social media didn’t hesitate to call the film exploitative, disgusting, and an affront to Monroe, all without having seen a single scene.
Lassin said this type of sensationalism often occurs with topics trending on social media.
“Now it’s really a system based on, you’re able to generate sensation and awareness in many cases,” Lassin said. “And so even if there’s no actual content, it’s really about what you’ve managed to get people talking about whatever you’ve said.”
The Venice Film Festival gave people a chance to actually see ‘Blonde’, garnering mixed reactions.
Sitting at a 42% on Rotten Tomatoes and earn a critic score of 50 on Metacriticreviewers were universally supportive of the film’s technical aspects, such as the score and de Armas’ performance, but found the film’s treatment of Monroe much more difficult to swallow.
Review the movie for Republic of Arizonaentertainment journalist Bill Goodykoontz summed up the critical acclaim.
“It is exceptionally well done, bold and experimental, with a powerful performance by Ana de Armas at its core. In everything, really – it dominates the film, as it should,” Goodykoontz said. “But the film is also too long, too self-indulgent, just too much. It’s a marathon of misery.
At the same time, a narrative began to develop that it was morally wrong to love or even look at “Blonde.” Supporting the film meant supporting the continued abuse of Monroe’s legacy and, by extension, the exploitation of all women in film.
People have taken to user review sites like Rotten Tomatoes and Letterboxd to review the film, a phenomenon where the media outlets are given a disproportionate amount of low user scores with the intent of showing their disapproval of something about it .
While sites like this have some moderation features that can prevent this from happening, it still colors people’s impressions and may prevent them from watching a movie by themselves.
When “Blonde” was released on Netflix on Wednesday, September 28, the controversy had reached a fever pitch. But with the movie out and nothing new to gain from discussions about it, it quickly faded away as users moved on to the next trending topic.
So… where does this “Blondes” go?
Given the current cultural climate, the film is unlikely to win everyone over. Even if it had been crafted with perfect finesse – which it certainly wasn’t – there would still be people who would have found it at best morally objectionable and at worst reprehensible.
That said, as an avid media consumer, it’s disheartening to see people so quick to disengage from a film and refuse to even try to watch it themselves.
“Blonde” and her speech are the perfect representation of the current social media landscape: one more concerned with providing “hot takes” and feeling morally superior than actually engaging in legitimate conversation.