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Will Netflix’s Marilyn Monroe Film Explore her Possible Lesbianism?

Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in Blonde

Netflix will be releasing Blonde, a film about Marilyn Monroe’s life, on September 28. But will it mention her speculated lesbianism?

Starring Ana de Armas, “This fictional portrait of Marilyn Monroe boldly reimagines the tumultuous private life of the Hollywood legend — and the price she paid for fame,” the Netflix website reads.

Blonde will explore Marilyn Monroe, the performance, and Norma Jeane Mortenson, the real woman behind the show. It is an adaption of Joyce Carol Oates’ novel about the star.

The trailer gives off Spencer vibes: a film where Kristen Stewart plays Princess Diana, whose life was plagued by a struggle with performativity and whose death is still surrounded by much speculation.  

Norma Jeane and Diana’s stories are eerily similar. One locked up in a royal institution, the other in a celebrity one. Both institutions require a surrendering of the self for a palatable, sellable performance. Both women were ultimately shattered by misogynistic expectations.

There is speculation about Norma Jeane’s sexual orientation, too. She might not have just been a great ally to the lesbian and gay community. She might have been involved in multiple same-sex relationships, which has elevated her gay-icon status over the years.

Author Lois Banner provided an excerpt from her 2013 book Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox in The Guardian:

“[Marilyn Monroe] had affairs with many eminent men – baseball great Joe DiMaggio, playwright Arthur Miller, director Elia Kazan, actor Marlon Brando, singer Frank Sinatra, the Kennedy brothers – and she married DiMaggio and Miller. Yet she desired women, had affairs with them, and worried that she might be lesbian by nature. How could she be the world’s heterosexual sex goddess and desire women? How could she have the world’s most perfect body on the outside and have such internal imperfections? Why was she unable to bear a child? The adult Marilyn was haunted by these questions.”

Blonde’s trailer depicts a woman distressed by inauthenticity, to the point of really harming herself. But was Norma Jeane harming herself through Marilyn Monroe? Sex can be used as self-harm. The Marilyn performance was not the real Norma Jeane, but she still torturously existed inside the caricature while the show happened. 

“Marilyn Monroe only exists on the screen,” she says in the trailer. 

Abandoned by her parents and abused by her foster parents, as well as her husband, it is completely rational for Marilyn Monroe to have been a lesbian but have been dissociated from her true desires. She used her sexuality to survive. She is not the only woman to have done that.

Lois Banner explores one of the most famous photographs of all time, which happened to feature Marilyn Monroe in a billowing dress over a subway grate, revealing her underwear. Knowing how distraught Norma Jeane had become with being Marilyn Monroe, the photograph’s environment became a site of trauma. 

“​​The photoshoot was a publicity stunt, one of the greatest in the history of film. Its time and location were published in New York newspapers; it attracted a crowd of 100 male photographers and 1,500 male spectators, even though it was held in the middle of the night to avoid daytime crowds,” Banner writes.

“Billy Wilder, the film’s director, did 14 takes – pausing between them to let the photographers shoot. Every time Marilyn’s skirt blew up, the crowd roared, especially those up front, who could see a dark blotch of pubic hair through her underpants, even though she had put on two pairs to conceal it. The draconian 1934 Motion Picture Production Code forbade such a display. Any sign of pubic hair in photos had to be airbrushed out.” 

Banner claims that Marilyn is “in control” in the shoot, she’s the “woman on top.” Apparently, “she poses for the male gaze, but she is an unruly woman.” This take is incompatible with her real unhappiness. 

Marilyn Monroe, or Norma Jeane, reveals the problem with convincing women they can “reclaim” the male gaze; they can somehow turn misogyny around and victimize men. Are you happy with your objectification when you are alone, when the cameras are put away and the dissociation is over, when you have time to conceive of what actually happened? 

“In [Marilyn Monroe’s] only discussion of the shoot – a 1962 interview – she stated that she wasn’t thinking about sex when she posed, only about having a good time. “At first it was all innocent and fun,” Marilyn said, “but when Billy kept shooting the scene over and over the crowd of men kept on applauding and shouting, ‘More, more Marilyn – let’s see more.” Then Billy brought the camera in close, focusing on her crotch. “What was supposed to be a fun scene turned into a sex scene.” With her wry humour, Marilyn added: “I hope all those extra takes are not for your Hollywood friends to enjoy at a private party.””

Knowing she self-harmed, had bipolar, was abused, took barbituates to calm and amphetamines to rise, and was possibly a lesbian completely dissociated from her actual sexual desire–how could anyone pretend that she was a “woman on top”? 

She could barely speak of the shoot but, when she did, said she was only thinking about having a good time until it wasn’t fun: when the men chanted to show them more, when what was “fun and innocent” turned into a “sex scene.” Why aren’t we talking about the famous photograph as documentation of sexual abuse?

What were Norma Jeane’s real desires?

Blonde will stream on Netflix September 28.

Read the full article here

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