Female directors should tell female stories

Andrew Dominik’s Blonde depicts a dangerous view of women

Rory believes female-centred stories should be done right.
Credit: 
Supplied by Rory Sullivan

This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-800-544-6424

Three weeks ago, my two friends and I watched Blonde at The Screening Room.

We had heard many different rumours about the movie: that it was disrespectful, that it was an incredible tribute, that it was basically porn, or that it was Oscar bait.

About three hours later, we were in complete shock.

Never had I seen a more blatantly sexist movie. We, along with the other four women in the theatre, spent most of the movie laughing in disbelief. It became abundantly clear the movie had been made by a man who doesn’t understand women.

Male directors, no matter how hard they may try, cannot effectively tell stories that so heavily rely on the female experience.

Blonde perfectly exemplifies how male Hollywood directors so often make dangerous assumptions about women’s lives. Though based on a book by female author Joyce Carol Oates, the male gaze is abundantly evident in Andrew Dominik’s direction, screenplay, and comments about the film.

The film stars Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe and is Dominik’s first film featuring a major female character. The source material is a fictionalized retelling of Monroe’s life, but both the movie and the book still follow a real person.

The film’s treatment Monroe can only be described as debasing and victimizing. Despite its star describing this movie as “the most daring, unapologetic, and feminist take on [Monroe’s] story that [she] had ever seen,” it felt quite the opposite.

In an interview, Dominik said, “my films are fairly bereft of women and now I’m imagining what it’s like to be one.”

This is exactly the issue with Blonde: it’s a male director “imagining” what the female experience is like to direct a film that re-sexualizes Monroe rather than discusses the abuse and barriers she faced in Hollywood during the 1950s.

It’s hard to tell the woman on the screen was a trailblazer in the film industry when you watch the movie. Dominik’s portrayal of the character infantilizes and sexualizes her—de Armas spent most of the film topless.

Two incredibly graphic sexual assault scenes were included in the film despite there being no proof they ever occurred to Monroe. She calls every male figure in her life “Daddy” to represent her issues with her father and men. Perhaps the worst offence is the two forced abortion scenes, one of which involves a sentient fetus blaming Monroe for its ‘death.’

Though the multiple assault and abortion scenes are excessive, a female director could have at least ensured these scenes were filmed with the right tone. The assault portrayed Monroe in a sexy-yet-violent light, coming across more as a graphic fantasy than a depiction of rape.

The abortion scenes were also incredibly dehumanizing. They took away Monroe’s agency and guilted her for her future miscarriages, which is even more disrespectful given Monroe’s struggle with endometriosis.

Rather than empower Monroe and show her strength in the face of oppression, Dominik uses it to make her reliant on the male figures around her, unable to stand or make decisions on her own.

Dominik’s male gaze and perspective ensure that Blonde, a movie that’s supposed to be about Marilyn Monroe, is actually a movie about the men who surround her.

In a viral interview, Dominik made several comments highlighting his perspective on Monroe, and as an extension, women. He said he thought Monroe was “a guy’s girl” and how he didn’t “think she was a woman who had a lot of female friends.”

Even though Gentlemen Prefer Blondes is one of her most famous and complex films, Dominik crudely described it as being about “well-dressed whores.”

Dominik’s treatment of Monroe in Blonde makes it clear he did not consider her a real person. In discarding her legacy, Dominik makes it painfully obvious he doesn’t understand what it’s like to be a woman and he doesn’t understand women in general.

Having more female directors behind the camera, especially in movies that tell stories about the female experience, is crucial. Allowing women to have a platform behind the camera has been shown to increase the number of women acting and writing for the screen.

Dominik wrote and directed Blonde. The cinematographer was a man, most of the producers were men, and out of the seven main and supporting characters, only two were women—and were topless for much of their screen time, of course.

There are some stories only certain people should tell.

Through his inability to understand women or their experience, and frankly what seemed to be a dislike of women in general, Dominik made a film portraying women as infantilized, sexualized victims. It glorified abuse and completely misunderstood women’s strength and position in the entertainment industry.

Blonde is an example of why female directors need to be given a platform to ensure that women’s stories are told, not destroyed.

 

Rory Sullivan is a fourth-year Political Studies and Global Development Student.

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