Recently, Netflix released the trailer for Blonde, starring Ana de Armas as famed actor Marilyn Monroe. The film focuses on the rise of Monroe, as well as her struggles in her personal life. Many, however, have spoken out against the trailer, with much of the backlash centered around a fear that Monroe’s life may be exploited.
In that spirit, here are a few biopics that were actually criticized by their subjects or by family and friends.
After the death of comedian John Belushi in 1982, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward took it upon himself to write a biography of the Saturday Night Live alum. While, at first, those in Belushi’s life, like his widow, Judith Belushi, and friend Dan Aykroyd, consented to interviews for Woodward’s book, they criticized the portrait painted of Belushi after the book’s publication, with Aykroyd calling it “depressing” and Judith disputing it as factually incorrect.
However, that didn’t stop director Larry Peerce from turning Woodward’s biography into a film that shared the name of the book, Wired. Again, Belushi’s friends and family denounced the production of the film, with friend and director John Landis threatening the film’s distributor, F/M Entertainment, with a lawsuit if he was depicted in the film. Aykroyd was also adamant about his dislike of the film and said, “I hope it never gets seen, and I am going to hurl all the negative energy I can … My thunderbolts are out on this one, quite truthfully.” Reportedly, Aykroyd also refused to work on a film with actor J.T. Walsh, who portrayed Woodward in the film, and Walsh was let go from that film after a day of shooting.
Strangely enough, it seemed that the film thrived off of the negativity surrounding it and was actually marketed as “the film that Hollywood never wanted made” during promotion. Wired was panned by fans of Belushi and by critics alike, who cited an emphasis on Belushi’s drug abuse instead of the laughter that made him famous. One critic actually wrote, “Wired is a biography without an ounce of soul or a shred of dignity.”
Lead actor Michael Chiklis, who portrayed Belushi, was actually blackballed by Hollywood and said that he couldn’t get cast in anything for around 18 months. He also approached Jim Belushi, John’s brother, to personally apologize for his role in the film and to emphasize that his decision to take the role was rooted in admiration for his brother.
While Hulu’s Pam & Tommy has been nominated for 10 Primetime Emmys, the actual Pam Anderson has repeatedly denounced the film. Anderson, played by Lily James in the film, was repeatedly contacted during production, even by James herself, to no avail. On attempting to contact Anderson, showrunner D.V. DeVincentis said, “We didn’t get a response, but considering what she’s been through and the time that we were reaching out, that was understandable.”
An insider source reportedly said that Anderson had no involvement in the production of the eight-part miniseries, which chronicles her marriage to Mötley Crüe member Tommy Lee, as well as the distribution of the couple’s sex tape. Another source confirmed that Anderson has no interest in watching the show. DeVincentis also said, “I think if you had to name one person with whom the show’s sympathies lie, it’s Pam.” But since the miniseries’s release, many have argued that by depicting the exploitation of Anderson during the release of a sex tape without her consent, the creators were doing precisely what they were villainizing others for doing.
The claim of exploitation was further supported after a source close to Anderson said, “The upcoming Pam & Tommy Hulu series has been very painful for Pamela Anderson and for anyone that loves her,” and added that Anderson still felt violated by the burglary of the tape, in addition to the show’s reliving of the event.
During the airing of the show’s penultimate episode, Anderson herself finally released a statement on her Instagram, calling herself “not a victim, but a survivor,” and “alive to tell the real story.” Many have speculated that she is alluding to a potential documentary about the events, this time with the approval and assistance of Anderson herself.
Four years after the release of David Fincher’s film The Social Network, Mark Zuckerberg disparaged the film, saying, “They made up a bunch of stuff that I found kind of hurtful.” Zuckerberg said that the film, which focuses on his creation of Facebook as well as the ensuing ownership lawsuits that followed, embellished details to make his life appear more interesting. He said, “I think the reality is that writing code and then building a product and building a company is not a glamorous-enough thing to make a movie about, so you can imagine that a lot of this stuff, they had to embellish or make up.”
In 2019, The Social Network‘s screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times in which he criticized Zuckerberg for his allowance of the spread of misinformation on Facebook. In his piece, Sorkin said, “In 2010, I wrote The Social Network, and I know you [Mark] wish I hadn’t.” Sorkin countered Zuckerberg’s claims that the movie was less than factual by confirming that the film had been previously vetted by a team of studio lawyers to ensure that Zuckerberg didn’t have grounds to sue the studio. Sorkin also claimed hypocrisy on Zuckerberg’s part, contrasting his apparent desire for the “truth” in how he was depicted in the film with his alleged carelessness about preserving truth on his own platform.
While some who knew rapper Tupac Shakur, including Death Row Records co-founder Suge Knight and Sean “Puffy” Combs, praised the 2017 biopic surrounding the rapper’s life, All Eyez on Me, others weren’t as complimentary. Actor Jada Pinkett Smith, a friend of Shakur’s, argued that the film contained several inaccuracies, specifically regarding her friendship with Shakur. The film, which focuses on Shakur’s rise to fame, depicts a scene in which Shakur, played by Demetrius Shipp Jr., reads a poem to Pinkett Smith, played by Kat Graham.
Pinkett Smith claimed that that event never happened and said she didn’t even know that Shakur had written the poem until she read it later on in The Rose That Grew From Concrete, a collection of poetry written by Shakur. Pinkett Smith added that she had never been at any of Tupac’s shows at his request, as was depicted in the film where the two characters had an argument. She also said that before leaving Los Angeles, Shakur never said goodbye to her. Pinkett Smith said, “Forgive me, my relationship to Pac is too precious to me for the scenes in All Eyez on Me to stand as the truth.” She did, however, praise the actors Shipp and Graham.
The film The Blind Side has frequently been criticized for perpetuating racial stereotypes and presenting a white savior narrative. The film, based on NFL player Michael Oher’s early life, focuses on Oher’s relationship with the Tuohy family, who adopted him after he began living with them in 2004.
The subject of the film has also spoken out against it and said that people have made assumptions about him as a person because of the way he was portrayed. Oher, who was an offensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens, stated, “People look at me, and they take things away from me because of a movie. They don’t really see the skills and the kind of player I am. That’s why I get downgraded so much, because of something off the field.” He added, “That’s taken away from my football. That’s why people criticize me. That’s why people look at me every single play.”
At first, Patrizia Reggiani was pleased to learn that Lady Gaga would be playing her in House of Gucci, a film focused on the Gucci family and their fashion empire, as well as the romance between Reggiani and Maurizio Gucci and his planned murder after the demise of their marriage. However, she later gave an interview expressing annoyance that Lady Gaga had not planned to meet her prior to her performance, and said, “It is a question of good sense and respect.”
Gaga later said of not reaching out, “I don’t want to collude with Patrizia Gucci. I think she wants to drive a famous narrative of herself as a notorious killer and a woman who advised Gucci.” She did, however, extend her sympathies to Gucci and Reggiani’s daughters.
Also, Patrizia Gucci said that she spoke for the Gucci family when she said they were “truly disappointed by the film.” She added, “They are stealing the identity of a family to make a profit, to increase the income of the Hollywood system. … Our family has an identity, privacy. We can talk about everything, but there is a borderline that cannot be crossed.”
Though pianist and composer Don Shirley died in 2013, his family spoke out in 2018 against The Green Book, a film that focuses on the relationship between Shirley and Frank Vallelonga (aka Tony Lip), who was Shirley’s driver and bodyguard. The film focuses on Shirley’s 1962 tour of the Deep South, with Vallelonga as his escort. In addition to a claim that the Shirley family was not consulted until after the project was developed, Shirley’s brother stated, “This movie, The Green Book, is not about my brother but about money, white privilege, assumption, and Tony Lip!”
The Green Book was actually written by Frank Vallelonga’s son, Nick Vallelonga, who defended the film by saying that Shirley had approved it before his death and had told him not to speak to anyone else while writing the film.
The Shirley family criticized an array of moments in the film as contrary to reality, including the relationship between Shirley and his family. It is portrayed as estranged, even though the Shirley family maintained that Don kept in contact and was close with them. Moreover, the Shirley family said that, despite Vallelonga’s claims, Don and Frank’s relationship was more of an “employer-employee” relationship than an actual friendship. Mahershala Ali, who played Shirley, actually apologized to Shirley’s family and said that he would have reached out to them had he known they were still alive.
And Don Shirley’s nephew Edwin Shirley wrote, “The character so superbly played by Mahershala Ali was simply not the Uncle Donald I knew.”
After the 2016 release of the Nina Simone biopic Nina, Simone’s estate tweeted at Zoe Saldaña — who played the singer and had tweeted a quote attributed to Simone, who died in 2003 — saying, “Cool story but please take Nina’s name out your mouth. For the rest of your life.” The account later tweeted, “Hopefully people begin to understand this is painful. Gut-wrenching, heartbreaking, nauseating, soul-crushing.”
Saldaña, who is Afro-Latina, reportedly darkened her skin and wore facial prosthetics during filming. Though Saldaña at first defended her role, she later apologized and said, “I should have done everything in my power to cast a Black woman to play an exceptionally perfect Black woman.” Simone’s daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, spoke about Saldaña’s casting and said, “My mother was raised at a time when she was told her nose was too wide, her skin was too dark. Appearance-wise, this is not the best choice.”
Former Lakers player and executive Jerry West apparently felt so misrepresented during the HBO series Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty that he threatened to sue the network for defamation, even if he has to “take this all the way to the Supreme Court.” West is portrayed by Jason Clarke as the series depicts the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1980s, specifically during what became known as the Showtime era, which focused on high-energy playing in order to provide greater entertainment to the crowds.
At first, West’s attorney demanded that HBO publish a retraction of their depiction of him, calling it “deliberately false.” His attorney claimed that the series’s depiction of West as a rageful manager prone to outbursts was also inaccurate, stating “Jerry had nothing but love and harmony with the Lakers organization.”
HBO refused to offer a retraction and responded, “Winning Time is not a documentary and has not been presented as such. However, the series and its depictions are based on extensive factual research and reliable sourcing, and HBO stands resolutely behind our talented creators and cast who have brought a dramatization of this epic chapter in basketball history to the screen.” The network also said, “HBO has a long history of producing compelling content drawn from actual facts and events that are fictionalized in part for dramatic purposes.” After this, West threatened to sue HBO for defamation.
Magic Johnson, who played with the Lakers as a point guard during Showtime, also refused to watch the series because HBO decided not to involve any Lakers players during production, and Johnson felt that meant they’d be unable to tell an authentic story. He said, “There’s no way to duplicate Showtime. I don’t care who you get.” He later told ET, “It’s hard. I won’t watch it because it’s hard to duplicate.”
Johnson’s Lakers teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also dismissed the series in a blog post, calling it boring. Abdul-Jabbar also took issue with a specific scene in which his character, played by Solomon Hughes, tells a child to ‘F— off!’ Abdul-Jabbar, who is board chair at the Skyhook Foundation, said that this scene could be detrimental to his and the charity’s work with children, as the charity focuses on promoting STEM education in schools.
Abdul-Jabbar wrote, “For years, I have been visiting schools to promote STEM education. But when people see this show and come away with an impression that I’m verbally abusive to children, they are less likely to support my foundation. That means fewer kids will be able to partake in the program. So Adam McKay is giving those kids a great big ‘F—k off!’ that lasts a lot longer than the easy laugh he got out of a dishonest joke.”
Did any of these surprise you? Let me know in the comments!