Erin Batchelder '17 Assistant Arts Editor
“Fifty Shades of Grey” will hit the theaters on Feb. 13 and is expected to gross over $60 million dollars during that opening weekend. So far, its advanced ticket sales as an rated-R film have topped any prior record. However, the controversy of the film paired with high anticipation has made “Fifty Shades” one of the most talked about films of the year.
The major issue feminists and critics have with the film is its depiction of an abusive relationship under the guise of BDSM. According to Psychology Today, BDSM, or bondage, dominance and sadomasochism, is “a relationship in which people take on a role of Dominant or a Submissive and may involve some type of restriction (bondage) and… some sort of discipline.” In the book series, on the other hand, the two main characters – Anastasia and Christian Grey – engage in BDSM practices, yet the dialogue is peppered with emotional manipulation, and there are several instances in the book when consent is not explicitly given.
In translating this relationship to the screen, director Sam Taylor-Johnson addressed the issues of portraying the book’s highly erotic scenes, telling the Guardian, “I didn’t want it to be graphically explicit, and I know that’s going to be disappointing to some people.” Yet many, including the group Morality on Film, are already contesting the MPAA’s R-rating, petitioning for the film to receive an NC-17 rating instead. The film’s rating unearths the American rating system’s main issue: That abusive relationships get less harsh ratings than films that depict consensual sex (a particular example would be the rating controversy of “Blue Valentine”).
However, the interesting part about “Fifty Shades” is the fact that the film was primarily authored by women. The original novel was written by British novelist E. L. James, who was closely consulted during the screenplay auctioning. While several major male directors – from Bret Easton Ellis (who campaigned for a meeting with E. L. James on Twitter) to Gus Van Sant (famous for films like “Good Will Hunting” and the New Queer Cinema movement) – were interested in the highly lucrative film, E. L. James selected Kelly Marcel as the film’s director.
In some ways, the overwhelming female representation behind this film is a triumph for female filmmakers. At this juncture, female directors typically produce a film every four years as opposed to men, who produce one a year. To have three women at the helm of what might be this season’s most lucrative film is a celebratory event, but could it also be a sign of how deeply imbedded misogyny is in our culture?
For a book and a film mainly marketed towards women, “Fifty Shades” is the definition of problematic. By putting an explicitly abusive relationship on screen, media culture again highlights an unhealthy relationship for younger viewers – particularly younger women. However, with all of the discussion and controversy surrounding the film, hopefully its issues will resolve themselves in feminist responses – in films and media that highlight healthy relationships and refrain from portraying violence against women.
When considering whether or not to see “Fifty Shades of Grey” or its two upcoming sequels, think about the power your viewership has over whether the trend of abusive relationships under the guise of romance continues to play a part in our media culture. By not going to the cinema and by not supporting the film, perhaps the audience can have some say in whether we stand for another franchise enforcing internalized and externalized misogyny.