How Controversial Is Too Controversial?

By Caelyn Osbern

It’s basically bad fanfiction. That’s what I’d say about the Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde with Golden Globes nominee Ana De Armas. It’s no secret that films, no matter their content, are always, and always have been, subject to some form of controversy. Even Disney movies aren’t safe from harsh opinions, but what happens when certain movies deserve the hate, or when movies get so much for small or irrelevant reasons? The discussion around current movies like Blonde and The Whale are discussions worth having. Everyone is entitled to their feelings surrounding the two films, but where do we draw the line?
To start off, Blonde, released September 16th of 2022, was arguably the most controversial film of the year. The reasons for this consisted of a multitude of things, including an NC-17 rating, which many movies with adult content do not get. To save all of you the trouble, it is safe to say the one and only thing the movie deserves is its NC-17 rating. A main point of controversy, and probably the one that sticks out to me the most, is that the nearly three-hour runtime consisted of very little of Marilyn’s real life. The movie was based on a book also titled “Blonde” by Joyce Carol Oates, which is a fictional story. It contains some presumptuous details of Marilyn’s life, but for the most part, it is fictional and honestly violates Monroe’s memory. Both the book and movie contain incredibly graphic depictions of rape, sexual assault, and quite unnecessary nudity. Now I am of the opinion that artistic envelope-pushing can be useful and quite tasteful when done right. However, Marilyn Monroe was a real person with many misconceptions about her life; movies like Blonde push false stigmas forward. Even if it is stated that it is not a biopic, it’s completely a violation of her memory, and fictitious narratives of real people should not be written, especially not televised in such a graphic way. To close off this paragraph about this God-awful movie, I leave you with this quote from Ana De Armas referring to being “haunted” by Marilyn’s ghost: “I think she was happy. She would also throw things off the wall sometimes and get mad if she didn’t like something.” And I think that quote tells you everything you need to know.
Now onto a movie I don’t believe deserves hate, we have the wonderful Brendan Fraser’s comeback film The Whale. Now firstly, you might be asking, “what do you mean Brendan Fraser’s comeback film?” Well, the answer to your question is, after his days acting in comedy in movies like The Mummy, Fraser was blacklisted by Hollywood for bravely speaking out and telling his story of sexual assault; the perpetrator being the former president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Phillip Berk. Fraser, known as a comedic actor, came back into acting with a drama (a very textbook drama, I might add), in a brilliant performance as Charlie, an obese online English teacher attempting to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Sadie Sink), whom he left when she was eight. The controversy surrounding this movie is mainly about the term fatphobia, and how many people are viewing this movie as fatphobic. I understand that my voice on this specific conversation of fatphobia is definitely not the one that should be listened to above all, and I strongly encourage anyone interested in this to look to more educated creators about this topic. However, if there is one thing I will say, it is that this movie is definitely not a one-size fits all movie. This movie depicts one fictional story of obesity, but that is not all. It’s a story of what grief can do to a person, it’s a story of finding yourself in another person, and then losing that person, and by extension yourself. The Whale is but one story of one fictional person’s battle with obesity; just like how Ladybird (2017, directed by Greta Gerwig, starring Saoirse Ronan), is but one story of a mother-daughter relationship. The art people create can absolutely speak to a community as a whole, but at the same time, art can just tell a story specific to one person. I’m sure I don’t know anyone around me who is a wizard, yet we all find ourselves invested in Harry Potter. I’d argue that The Whale is no different.
The controversy surrounding both movies is such an intriguing concept to engage with. Are all movies subjected to controversy deserving of it, or does it fall to personal opinion? The art that is created by directors, actors, and movie teams will always tell a story; but is that story okay to tell? In my opinion, the line is much thicker than we realize. Of course, continuously perpetuating stereotypes is not acceptable in the twenty-first century, the stories that do contain those are still worthy of telling; just as much as the stories that do not fit into stereotypes are worth telling. I think there is room for The Whale and also films that depict its themes in a much more positive and uplifting light. That said, the stories being referred to in this case are fictional but can be related to real life. There is no place for the disrespect and blatant lies of people who aren’t alive to defend the mistakes in their story being perpetuated. With all being said, films and film culture have immense power in our society today; which is why having these conversations is so important, entertaining, and worthwhile.