Just Gonna Say It: Hollywood Needs To Stop With Its Trashy & Problematic Biopics

Biopics of Elvis, Marilyn Monroe in Blonde and Marisa Abela as Amy Winehouse

Hollywood’s obsession with biopics, much like the cockroach hiding under my stove, refuses to be stamped out. The latest deceased celebrity to be resurrected for the gains of others is Michael Jackson, and I’m fucking over it.

Michael, a film directed by Antoine Fuqua, will focus on every aspect of MJ’s life: the history he made as a Black man and the abuse allegations that were made against him in the 2019 documentary Leaving Neverland. It’ll be made in co-operation with MJ’s estate, which will be good news for fans but frustrating for those who don’t want the allegations against him dismissed.

I don’t particularly care what anyone thinks of Jackson, and don’t care much myself about his legacy either. What I am sick of is the constant resurrection of controversial and troubled celebrities whose traumas and struggles are still being mined for content and money years, at times decades, after their deaths — often without any nuanced depictions of their controversies either.

Let’s talk about Baz Luhrman‘s Elvis, for example.

The film has been hailed as delightfully explosive and frenetic in a way that’s infectious: Austin Butler is great as Elvis Presley and a lot of the film is surprisingly not too ahistorical.

However, as you can probably expect, the film is not without its criticisms.

Elvis glossed over its subject’s problematic relationship with his then-wife Priscilla, who he struck up a relationship with when she was only 14 years old and he was 24.

You can argue that it was a different time but the point remains that she was a child and he was 10 years her senior. The two were married six years but ultimately divorced because once Priscilla had a baby, Elvis no longer wanted to have sex with her and wasn’t attracted to her. Stellar guy.

There’s also criticisms of the race politics in the film, given the long and controversial history of Elvis’ connection with/appropriation of Black music. As this Slate review puts it, Elvis‘ “depictions of Black music-making often feel flagrantly racist, shot after leering shot of carnal, frenetic ecstasy, while whole traditions like gospel, blues, and R&B are reduced to raw material for Elvis to bring forth to benighted white masses”.

These issues have been points of contention among Elvis fans for a while, and by not digging into the moral issues with that relationship, the film did itself a disservice and proved how much biopics sanitise the problematic behaviours of larger-than-life men.

I wish women who are the subject of sensationalised biopics had the same issue, but in fact it’s the opposite.

The infamous Marilyn Monroe film Blonde which assaulted our screens last year was condemned as trashy trauma porn.

It was based on a partially-fictionalised book so much of its contents were not events from Monroe’s life, but that didn’t stop the film from putting its version of Monroe through all kinds of unspeakable cruelties. One of its most offensive scenes involved an abortion that Monroe never had, in which a foetus begged her not to hurt it. What the actual fuck?

The film appeared to revel in putting a soft-hearted, infantilised, over-sexualised Monroe through all kinds of violent fantasies, while also completely erasing the fact that she was clever and independent in real life too. That she actually did have a bit more agency.

The poor woman was not only exploited all her life, but continues to be exploited after she left this earth. And she is not the only deceased female celebrity who cannot escape being fetishised and commodified even in death.

It was revealed last year that an Amy Winehouse biopic is now in the works, of which set pics were revealed earlier this month. Fans lashed out at the new film, with comments flooding posts about it that begged the creators to “let her rest”.

Amy Winehouse only died in 2011, and yet the world is happy to mine her life for content despite the fact it was so hostile to her when she was alive.

As another music star who rose from ashes, had great impact but suffered a drug addiction, and ultimately died before her time, you’d hope she gets a biopic as charitable as Elvis.

But we also know how much films of this genre revel in fetishising female pain.

I don’t know when the cinema scene collectively decided to enter its biopics era, but I’m calling for it to end now. We’ve had enough.