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Blonde’s Oscar nomination sends a grim message about exploitation

Blonde, the Netflix movie about Marilyn Monroe, scored Ana De Armas an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, and this op-ed argues against the nomination

Ana de Armas in Blonde

There were a few surprises among the ‘Best Actress’ nomination category — from Danielle Deadwyler’s Till snub to the inclusion of Andrea Riseborough — but the one that I felt was especially nefarious was the inclusion of 2022 movie Blonde, with Ana de Armas being nominated in the category for her portrayal of Marilyn Monroe.

I want to preface this op-ed by saying there’s nothing wrong with Ana de Armas’ performance itself — with her emotion and nuance, she did a great job with the material she was given. The only issue is that, in my opinion, the material in question arguably amounts to atrocious trauma porn, which demonstrates how, even in death, Monroe is reduced to a commodity and is still not free from the scrutiny, assumptions, and exploitation she endured throughout her life.

Here’s the thing about Blonde: by including it in the Oscars 2023 nominations, even if that award is focused on a specific performer, the drama movie’s existence becomes validated. I think it sends the message that capitalising on Marilyn Monroe’s trauma — or anyone’s trauma, for that matter — is permissible when it’s done ‘in the name of art.’

Using the ‘art’ defence feels like a surefire way to avoid accountability for this movie, but what The Academy is perhaps overlooking is the fact that there’s a distinction between ‘art’ and, as Emily Ratajkowski put it in her own criticism of Blonde, “the fetishisation of female pain”.

As a term, ‘fetishisation’ might feel overused or non-applicable to Blonde, but given how the new movie grapples with issues like sexual assault, domestic abuse, and self-harm — there’s truly no other way to describe it. Scenes depicting Marilyn’s sexual assault, being beaten by her husband, or her mother trying to drown her as a child feel harrowing enough — and often feel unnecessary in how extensively brutal they are — but what makes them worse is that they all also depict Marilyn and/or her mother as topless.

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The camera uncomfortably lingers on her breasts as she begs her husband to stop hitting her. Her self-harm scars are only shown in conjunction with her breasts in a boudoir-like nude scene that feels ripped straight from a toxic Tumblr blog. In any case, these scenes, to me, seem to treat these issues as an aesthetic above all else, which is not only disrespectful to Marilyn, who had to endure all of this, but is also a slap in the face for anyone who is a survivor of abuse or mental health struggles.

It feels like the Netflix movie continually oscillates between showing trauma in the most palatable way possible and relishing in how extreme and brutal its portrayal is. Either way, the thriller movie tackles these issues in a way that feels unnecessary and, in my opinion, does a hell of a lot more harm than good.

Ana de Armas in Blonde

Planned Parenthood was one of several sexual health and feminist organisations that spoke out about the misogyny underlying Blonde and, more specifically, the film’s portrayal of abortion. The movie once again seems to relish in Marilyn’s pain as it shows doctors holding her down to perform the procedure, and in a later scene, Marilyn’s unborn foetus appears to speak to her, begging her not to “kill” it.

Historically, it’s never even been confirmed if Monroe ever did undergo an abortion, but that doesn’t stop the film from not only, once again, appearing to relish in Marilyn being tortured but perpetuating what looks like a bizarre pro-life sentiment. That being said, historical accuracy never seemed to be a priority in this movie, given that it’s based on a fictional novel.

Ana de Armas in Blonde

Even so, especially in an age of misinformation, it feels largely irresponsible to perpetuate a caricature of someone so well-known, and to present rumours about her life as actual events that happened. The fact that Marilyn is unable to defend herself against these rumours/plot points having a fictional basis makes it even more sinister.

If The Academy doesn’t recognise the issues with this film, what does that say about the future of Hollywood? How much has it changed, really, since Marilyn was an active part of it? The most ironic part? The fact that the Razzies, who have been notoriously insensitive in the past, seem more aware of the valid criticism surrounding Blonde than The Academy does. They describe the film as “’explor[ing]’ the exploitation of Marilyn Monroe… by continuing to exploit her posthumously.” Do you know how shitty you have to be in a situation for the Razzies to come out of it looking better than you?

The bottom line is, giving Blonde an Oscar nomination just validates this trauma porn’s existence, emboldens further exploitation of Marilyn, and will just encourage more exploitative ‘biopics’ in the future. For more from the Academy Awards, check out our Oscars predictions 2023.