“Blonde,” Netflix’s fictionalized Marilyn Monroe biopic, has been widely panned for its exploitative portrayal of Monroe’s character. Some now argue that the film mishandled a major theme: abortion.
Monroe is shown in the film having two illegal abortions, both against her will. She also converses with a computer-animated fetus whom she later miscarries.
“Won’t you hurt me this time?” the fetus asks Monroe, played by Ana de Armas.
Abortion rights activists claim the scenes, based on Joyce Carol Oates’s 2000 novel of the same name, contribute to “anti-abortion propaganda.”
“Medically incorrect descriptions of fetuses and pregnancy” contribute to abortion stigma, according to Caren Spruch, national director of arts and entertainment engagement at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement to The Washington Post.
“With a CGI-talking fetus, depicted to look like a fully-formed baby,” she added in the statement, which was first reported by the Hollywood Reporter.
The release of “Blonde,” and the subsequent criticism, comes about three months after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had protected abortion access in the United States for nearly five decades. The decision prompted bans in a number of states, leaving approximately one-third of American women without access to abortions where they live.
The film’s director, Andrew Dominik, told USA Today that the criticism is due to “happenstance.”
“It’s just people looking at the film through the lens of their own particular prejudices or whatever agenda that they want to advance,” he told the paper. “I don’t think it has anything to say about Roe v. Wade.”
“If the film would have come out in 2008, no one would be talking about that,” he added. “And if [it] were to come out in 10 years … no one is going to care about it either. People are reacting to this idea that freedoms are being taken away.”
Steph Herold, a reproductive health researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, investigates abortion depiction in films and television shows. Herold told The Washington Post that she has seen many of the approximately 500 on-screen depictions of abortion produced over the last century.
She claims that over the last decade, there has been an increase in the number of abortion depictions in films and television shows, with varying degrees of accuracy in how the procedure is portrayed.
She claims that “Blonde” isn’t the worst depiction of abortion she’s seen, but she still finds its portrayals problematic. Monroe’s first abortion is performed on a surgical table in a sterile room, reinforcing the notion that abortion is a “serious surgical event,” according to Herold.
Abortions today are typically performed in outpatient clinics. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights organization, abortion pills were used in more than half of all abortions in the United States in 2020.
Herold also stated that the scene in which Monroe’s character speaks to the fetus, which has the voice of a child, “personifies” it, whereas the close-up image of the unrealistically developed fetus, Herold added, removes the focus from Monroe as a pregnant person.
“It completely infantilized her in ways that I’ve only seen in anti-abortion propaganda films,” Herold said. “I was quite surprised, especially given the platform and mainstream quality of this film.”
Herold is unsure if Monroe ever had abortions. According to Michelle Vogel, author of “Marilyn Monroe: Her Films, Her Life,” while Monroe’s miscarriages were well-documented, there is no evidence she had abortions, let alone forced procedures.
“Any discussion of abortion is an assumption on our part,” Vogel told the paper. “Marilyn adored children and yearned to be a mother. Unfortunately, she never carried a child to term.”