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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

question of the day: Is Brittany Murphy a tragic symbol of what Hollywood does to women?

I’ve been racking my brain for the last 12 hours, since I heard about the death of actress Brittany Murphy, for the best way to talk about her death, or, indeed, whether I should even mention her at all. Is there anything here worth talking about beyond the — let’s be honest — generic sorrow that springs from learning of the passing of someone, anyone, who was a stranger to you, but who was just too young to be dead already?

Murphy was not a great talent. What promise she showed as a cute, bubbly teenager in 1995’s Clueless was never capitalized upon, and her career descended into a tabloid nightmare, as Defamer summarizes so sadly:

In the final years of her too-short life (which ended with cardiac arrest late Sunday) Murphy was all saucer eyes and nervous energy, a toothy grin on the arm of one shady movie industry boyfriend after another. After multiple called-off engagements, she settled on Simon Monjack, the screenwriter husband and accused con man now raising eyebrows for trying to block her autopsy. Celebrity publications charted her weight fluctuations, speculated about eating disorders and drug use, and documented red carpet disasters and plastic surgery slip-ups.

For whatever reason, Murphy did lose a dramatic amount of weight off a frame that was already perfectly fine, which transformed her into a terribly thin and frail-looking woman. Of course, that’s when she started getting the “big” roles… albeit in terrible films: the preposterous 2001 thriller Don’t Say a Word, 2003’s excruciating Uptown Girls, and 2004’s downright monstrous Little Black Book. The latter two are particularly egregious examples of the disdain in which Hollywood holds women, framing us as vapid, idiotic, vain, and worse… and yet these are meant to be “cute” portrayals in “light” movies.

So here’s the question: Is Brittany Murphy a tragic symbol of what Hollywood does to women? Or is she just a tragic but individual example of how unfair life can be for anyone?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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