Director Karen McGann is taking a closer look at Marilyn Monroe from a feminist standpoint in her new CNN docuseries Reframed: Marilyn Monroe in an effort to “dismantle the myth” around the beauty icon.
“We think we know the story of Marilyn Monroe. We think we know who she is. She’s the greatest icon of the 20th century, in many ways, and we have a very fixed point of view of her. And this documentary was about looking at her story from a more feminist point of view and kind of dismantling the myth, really,” Karen McGann says.
“I think there is this view of her that’s widely held that she was this tragic victim, that she was a passive person who was kind of used and abused by men, that she was exploited. When we do that we deny someone a personality, we deny them a character, and we deny them a sense of their own agency,” she adds. “I think that was really what the film was about, to kind of shift the angle a little bit and look at [her] story with fresh eyes, and look at it within the context of the 21st century as well, and everything we’ve experienced in the last four or five years with the #MeToo movement.”
McGann also zeroes in on the strategies Monroe used to propel her career forward and draws attention to her intelligence, which is often overlooked in favor of the more scandalized elements of her life.
“There’s another perspective on this that isn’t Marilyn the tragic victim; she’s a much more complex and much more interesting character,” she says. “In exploring her story, we kind of explore the story of what it means to be a woman, as well. And that was very much the impetus behind it.”
Reframed: Marilyn Monroe premiered on CNN in January 2022. Here are some time stamps from the Factual America interview with Karen McGann:
00:00 – The trailer for Reframed: Marilyn Monroe.
01:58 – When the film will be released globally.
02:47 – What Reframed: Marilyn Monroe is all about and how it reframes Marilyn’s life.
04:58 – The ignorance Karen had about Marilyn before making the film and what she learned along the way.
08:36 – How Marilyn strategically pushed her career forward and how she acquired her name.
12:39 – The intelligence Marilyn had behind her Marilyn Monroe persona.
15:26 – How Marilyn responded to naked photos of her being released.
17:35 – Marilyn’s skill with handling the press and the different sides to her story.
21:03 – The complex nature of Marilyn’s life and how she was more than just a victim.
23:58 – The narrative around JFK and Marilyn’s relationship.
26:06 – How Marilyn Monroe died and why it was presented to the public in a certain way.
27:56 – How the idea for the project came about and how Karen became involved in the production.
30:35 – Why they used so many of Marilyn’s voice recordings in the docu-series.
32:19 – The main challenges they faced in making the docu-series.
34:31 – The difference between making a docu-series and a feature-length film.
36:17 – The next project Karen is working on about brain health.
Factual America uses documentary filmmaking to examine the American experience as well as universal topics that affect all Americans. Guests include Academy Award, Emmy and Grammy-winning filmmakers and producers, their subjects, as well as experts on the American experience. We discuss true crime, music, burning social and political topics, history and arts with the creators of the latest and upcoming documentary films in theatres and on the most popular digital platforms. This podcast is produced by Alamo Pictures, a London- and Austin-based production company that makes documentaries about the US from a European perspective for international audiences.
Main Image: Marilyn Monroe pictured in Reframed: Marilyn Monroe directed by Karen McGann courtesy of Factual America and CNN