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Blonde - What We Know So Far

It seems few celebrities have captured the popular zeitgeist quite the way Marilyn Monroe has, except perhaps Princess Diana, and considering Hollywood celebrity is America's royalty, that comparison seems to apply. Every few years there seems to be a new project — be it books, movies, television series, podcasts, art, etc. — highlighting the legendary life of the stunning, enthralling, gone-too-soon Marilyn Monroe. And the world can't get enough.

The 1950s starlet was iconic for her blond bombshell look and sex symbol status — the image of her platinum curls and flowing white dress is known the world over — and the mysteries surrounding her life and death make her a source of nonstop curiosity. People always want to know more about her. Monroe's movies were popular, and she was often underappreciated for her acting talent, instead known more for her sex appeal. She's been depicted in the 2011 film "My Week with Marilyn" starring Michelle Williams, the documentary "Love, Marilyn" in 2012, and the 1976 movie "Goodbye Norma Jean," starring Misty Rowe. There was even a made-for-television movie called "Blonde" in 2001, based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates.

The latest project based on Norma Jean Baker, Monroe's real name, is the highly anticipated and much-delayed film adaptation of Oates' "Blonde," which premiered on September 23, 2022.

Ana de Armas is the lead in Blonde

While there was some initial controversy over the casting of Marilyn Monroe, Cuban actress Ana de Armas has won over fans, as well as the Monroe Estate, for her performance.

The "Knives Out" actor faced a lot of negative comments online — some veering toward xenophobia — when viewers picked up traces of her Cuban accent in the teaser for "Blonde." TMZ reports some felt her accent was distracting, particularly while portraying the real-life Monroe. She had her defenders as well, such as this Twitter user who reminded complainers, "we have a long history of american actors botching accents of other nationalities in film and you don't blink twice. you'll survive." While the continuing fight for representation among people of color and who can play which roles gets marginally better, many people forget that representation is not just physical but aural. As IndieWire pointed out, diversity is more than what people look like, and there are unconscious biases about voices and accents that haven't been addressed yet.

Meanwhile, de Armas worked for nine months with a dialect coach on her accent and the iconic Marilyn breathiness, and she's won praise from the Monroe estate. "It looks like Ana was a great casting choice as she captures Marilyn's glamour, humanity and vulnerability," said Authentic Brands Group president of entertainment Marc Rosen on behalf of the estate, per Variety. And de Armas is thrilled. "Playing Marilyn was groundbreaking," she told Vanity Fair, saying she won the role with one audition. "A Cuban playing Marilyn Monroe. I wanted it so badly."

Who else is in the cast of Blonde?

Not only is the subject of "Blonde" star-studded, as Marilyn Monroe had many famous people in her life, but so is its cast. Though the film is based on a novel, telling a fictionalized story, many of these famous real-life people are depicted in the film by well-known actors.

Though they're real people, they're not necessarily called by name in the movie, just as they weren't in the Joyce Carol Oates novel. For starters, Bobby Cannavale plays Monroe's second husband, "The Ex-Athlete," aka baseball legend Joe DiMaggio, to who she was married for a brief but difficult nine months, per Vogue. Monroe's third husband, "The Playwright," aka Arthur Miller, who was later under FBI investigation for supposed ties to the Communist party, is portrayed by Adrien Brody. "The President," or John F. Kennedy, to whom Monroe famously sang her breathy rendition of "Happy Birthday," is played by Caspar Phillipson. And Julianne Nicholson, who won her first Emmy award for playing Kate Winslet's best friend in "Mare of Easttown" in 2021, appears as Monroe's mother, Gladys, who during the 1930s was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic, which today might be called manic depression or bipolar disorder.

The rest of the cast includes Garret Dillahunt (formerly of "Raising Hope"), Scoot McNairy, Xavier Samuel as Cass Chaplin (Charlie Chaplin's son), Evan Williams as Edward G. Robinson, Jr., Rebecca Wisocky, and Catherine Dent.

What is the plot of Blonde?

The new Marilyn Monroe "biopic" investigates incidents in the starlet's life, but Joyce Carol Oates insists it is a fictionalized story, per Vogue. Based on the 700-page novel published in 2000, "Blonde" tells of Monroe's tumultuous life, looking at her stratospheric rise to stardom as well as her personal life, and the incidents that led to her early death at only 36 years old — including the suspicion that Monroe was assassinated. Hinting at the paranoid schizophrenia her mother was diagnosed with, the trailer separates Norma Jeane Baker (spelled with an e in the novel) from Monroe. But it also portrays her difficult childhood, in and out of foster homes because of a mother with a mental illness and a father who she never quite knew. But Oates uses Monroe's story to examine how toxic celebrity culture in America can be.

While some people and events are dramatized and expanded, examining related topics like Hollywood's growth and history in the movie business and the unfair accusations of Communist activity therein, per The New Yorker, it also took pains to recreate many famous photos, posters, and scenes from Monroe's life. You can see in the trailer and many promotional photos, per Hollywood Life, how exacting the reproductions are — and Ana de Armas as the blond bombshell is perfect, the spitting image of Marilyn. "The one thing nobody's going to complain about is Ana's performance," director Andrew Dominik told Screen Daily. "I've worked with a lot of actors — that girl can do anything."

What is Blonde rated?

"Blonde" is the first Netflix-produced film to receive the audience-limiting NC-17 rating, per GameSpot. But director Andrew Dominik thinks it's ridiculous. "That's just the ratings board being political," he told Screen Daily, blaming Marilyn Monroe's legendary status more than the film's content. "If I look at an episode of 'Euphoria,' it's far more graphic than anything going on in 'Blonde.'"

The rating is given because of the graphic sexual content in the film, including a disturbing rape scene depicted in the novel, according to The New Yorker. A 21-year-old Monroe meets with a movie producer known as Mr. Z, played by David Warshofsky, for an "audition," and is brutally raped by him ... before winning the role, kicking off her career. "He was not a cruel man I believe but one accustomed to getting his way of course & surrounded by 'little people' there must be the temptation to be cruel," Monroe rationalizes in the novel.

But these difficult depictions of "casting couch" behavior are important, and the film "swim[s] around in all the #MeToo water," said Dominik, crediting the social movement for making the film possible. Oates, for one, appreciates it, tweeting that the film offers a feminist look at Monroe's story and that she isn't sure if other male directors were able to achieve such a feat. But Dominik ultimately doesn't care what audiences think about the rating. "If the audience doesn't like it, that's the f***ing audience's problem," he said. "It's not running for public office."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).