The much awaited film adaptation, 50 Shades of Grey came out over Valentine’s day – earning Universal Pictures over $266 million dollars in the international box office opening weekend. Paragon Poll surveyed over 5,000 people and came back with some surprising results. While the film was a raging success (financially), and enjoyed by millions of women (and a few unwilling men) worldwide – it has also caught the attention of feminists and the BDSM community for all the wrong reasons.
News outlets and outraged groups alike have called the film a misogynistic, exploitative, sexually violent, anti-romance that not only portrays an abusive BDSM relationship (compared to a healthy one) but romanticizes a blatantly emotionally and physically abusive relationship between the ‘pure’ Anastasia Steele and the older, more experienced Christian Grey. Only 23% of those surveyed by Paragon Poll noticed the foundations of an abusive relationship blossoming between Steele and Grey, while the other 67% had never considered the story from this angle and believe the relationship was normal.
While these groups didn’t stop Universal Pictures from making box office history, they’ve certainly stirred things up for theatre goers the world over. The site fiftyshadesisabuse.com is one example, (founded by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation) that is removing the blindfold society wears and approaches the film’s underlying domestic violence theme head on.
The National Center on Sexual Exploitation, Stop Porn Culture and the London Abused Women’s Center Ontario joined forces to launch the #50dollarsnot50shades campaign which asks people to donate to places “where women like Anastasia end up” i.e. Domestic Violence Shelters instead of going to see the ‘erotic’ novel turned film. In a society where 1 in 4 women are sexually abused, Gail Dines (founder and president of Stop Porn Culture) believes 50 Shades of Grey is a slippery slope by eroticiziating, glorifying and legitimizing violence against women.
Women advocacy groups aren’t the only groups rallying against the film, the BDSM community (the theme at the heart of Steele and Grey’s steamy relationship) have also voiced their concerns. While experienced BDSM practitioners explain their is a healthy, ethical way to enjoy the lifestyle (including self-knowledge, communication skills and emotional maturity) – Steele and Grey’s relationship is built on none of these foundations, incorrectly demonstrating what a healthy BDSM relationship looks like.
Bottom line: the film appeals to women, 88% of who would take the chance if a young, billionaire dropped into their lives with similar ‘extracurricular activities’ as Mr. Grey. However; it’s misportrayal of BDSM and a healthy dominant/submissive portrayal are troubling. This hasn’t concerned viewers though, with 87% of people who have seen the film professing their intent to see the sequel (possibly due to the film’s cliffhanger ending), while 93% of viewers don’t see the trouble with the film and think advocacy group’s should ‘lighten up’.