Hollywood’s biopics exploit trauma for surface-level entertainment 

Biopics are nothing new. While they are popular among audiences now, they have a rich history in Hollywood. From “Gandhi” and “Raging Bull” to “Walk the Line” and “Lincoln,” telling the lives of influential figures has proved popular and lucrative for Hollywood studios.

However, these respectable and powerful pictures have recently turned into products of suffering for actors and musicians.

In the past couple years, films like “Elvis,” “Blonde” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” have used overdramatized and false storytelling to compel larger audiences to gape and awe at the bad hands these entertainers were dealt.

First, the film “Elvis” portrays the powerful King of Rock ‘n’ Roll as weak, drug-ridden and at the hands of a corrupted manager. Unlike previous biopics, “Elvis” tells the legend’s story from the manager’s perspective, instead of shifting from each influential part of the superstar’s life.

While the film intended to portray the manager Col. Tom Parker (Tom Hanks) as a corrupt man feeding off the talent of Elvis Presley (Austin Butler), you almost feel sorry for the man. Parker, a narcissist who feeds on the talent of others, is still the leading character in the film, although the title is “Elvis.”

Parker devours the film and sadly that is due to Hanks’ needlessly overpowering stage presence. This film focuses on the tragic and corrupted parts of Presley’s life through the perspective of a man who was fired more than once by the singer.

For all its hype, “Blonde” wound up being a crass and largely fictional portrayal of Marilyn Monroe’s life. This film, like “Elvis,” focused on the weak parts of the star’s psyche and drug abuse to piece together a weak storyline for the sake of entertainment.

Monroe, who was a powerful and strong actress, is portrayed in the film as a frail drug addict plagued with falsified daddy issues. “Blonde” callously ignores the amazing work of this revolutionary actress, instead preferring to show her in her weakest forms to make a quick buck.

“Bohemian Rhapsody” alters the timeline of Freddie Mercury’s last years to piece together a film loosely based on his tragically short career. While the film has spectacular performances, especially by leading man Rami Malek, it uses Mercury’s HIV diagnosis to reap a greater emotional response from its viewers.

The film shows Mercury’s diagnosis right before the mega-performance at Live Aid, when in reality Mercury was diagnosed two years after the concert. By changing the timing of this tragic news, the film capitalizes on the emotional response of one person’s suffering, which has become all too common in these recent biopics.

In each of these films, the performers in real life were larger than life and that’s what people want to see. Instead, the producers and directors behind these biopics use the less savory parts of their lives to piece together weak, trauma-centered films.

We cannot allow films to use the suffering of performers largely for entertainment, while also ignoring the hand Hollywood and fame culture had in their suffering.

Photo from esquiremag.ph.