A detail from Netflix’s Marilyn Monroe movie trailer Blond which may surprise some viewers is the NC-17 rating at the end. The film is clearly artistically shot and seems to have an intense and dramatic tone, but in other ways it could pass for a traditional, tragic story of a celebrity’s life. What earned it the MPA’s strictest adult-only rating, a first for a Netflix movie?
Blond is written and directed by Andrew Dominik, an Australian filmmaker who made his name with the 2000 crime film Chopper and the elegiac western with Brad Pitt, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. The uncompromising Dominik is much admired by his peers like David Fincher, who hired him to direct several episodes of spirit hunter. But Dominik has yet to achieve great commercial success and has at times struggled to get films made on his terms.
Blond is not a direct biography of Monroe, but rather a heavily fictionalized version of her story, based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates. Dominik has been trying to do this since 2010. The book features some shockingly graphic scenes, and it seems Dominik insisted that these be part of his film.
Blondwhich stars Cuban actress Ana de Armas (Knives out, no time to die) as Monroe, was filmed in 2019. Reportedly, it was originally slated for release in 2021 before Netflix delayed it to 2022. No reason was given for the delay, but rumors have swirled that Netflix had opposed some of the most extreme films in film. content, and was considering re-editing it to avoid the NC-17 rating.
These rumors were finally confirmed, more or less, by an interview Dominik gave to Screen Daily in February 2022.
Dominik laughed off the idea that the film featured a gory scene describing menstrual cunnilingus as “hilarious” and fake. But he confirmed that Blond features a rape scene from Oates’ book. This is likely the scene behind the NC-17 rating, which the MPA attributes to “some sexual content.”
Dominik said Netflix “insisted” on bringing in a new editor, Jennifer Lame (Marriage story, Principle), “to curb the excesses of the film”. But, based on the ratings, it looks like Netflix capitulated and Dominik got an undiluted version of the movie. He acknowledged that Netflix had issues with the film’s content, but praised the streamer for supporting its release anyway. “It’s a lot easier to support stuff when you like it. It’s much harder when you don’t. I have nothing but gratitude for Netflix,” he said.
NC-17 ratings for movies are incredibly rare. According to the MPA’s Classification and Rating Administration website, only a handful of films over the past decade have been rated. Some movies, including recent releases such as Spiral, The king’s manand Midsommarwould have originally been hit with the rating, but were reissued and resubmitted to the MPA for a more theatrically-appropriate R rating.
An NC-17 rating is far less damaging to Netflix than to a traditional movie studio. While such a rating will greatly restrict a film’s distribution and marketing in theaters, it will have little impact on the streaming platform, where the homepage is Netflix’s primary marketing tool. In the past, it wasn’t hard to find extreme content on Netflix, like Gaspar Noé’s explicit and unrated erotic drama. To like, which was a big hit there. Nevertheless, the studio seems to have been quite sensitive to Blondperhaps given the film’s close alignment with its brand as a Netflix Original.
Speaking to Screen Daily, Dominik was typically unrepentant. He said the movie “wouldn’t have been made” if it hadn’t been for #MeToo, “because nobody cared about that kind of shit – what it’s like to be a unloved girl, or what it’s like to walk through the Hollywood Meat Grinder” – an apparent vindication for its unwavering portrayal of abused Monroe. And, while calling the NC-17 rating “a load of bullshit “, Dominik adopted it as a sign of the film’s lack of compromise.
“It’s a demanding film,” he said. “If the audience doesn’t like it, that’s the fucking audience problem. This is not an application for public office. It’s an NC-17 movie about Marilyn Monroe, that’s kind of what you want, isn’t it? I want to go see the NC-17 version of the Marilyn Monroe story.