It’s been nearly half a week since Sam Taylor-Johnson’s divisive and controversial Fifty Shades of Grey came out, so it’s safe to assume that we’ve read every possible thinkpiece about the film already.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way – Fifty Shades of Grey is a terrible film. And not a campy, so-bad-it’s-good (hello, Boy Next Door), it’s just bad. It is poorly written, lifeless, and utterly boring. (The supposed early draft of the script leaked on Tumblr is fun to read though.)
Yes, the film also portrays BDSM as a result of trauma rather than sexual preference. This is problematic. Yes, the film normalizes an abusive relationship. This is also problematic. These are huge issues that respective communities have spoken out about, and rightfully so. But there is one aspect that we’re all forgetting.
[bctt tweet=”Our society is still so fascinated by the female physique and sexuality.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I’m going to ask you, the reader, to go to a very dark place: the year 2008. A time when “WHAT IS AIR?” was a normal response to humor, when knee-high gladiator sandals were socially acceptable, and when Taylor Swift was still a country singer. Critically acclaimed director of Thirteen, Catherine Hardwicke, signs on to direct the film adaptation of bestseller YA novel Twilight, which becomes a sensation. Whether you loved it or hated it, Twilight was inescapable. Then, as Hardwicke herself mentions in the 2011 documentary Miss Representation, once Twilight became a moneymaking monster of a franchise, she was dropped and the directors of the subsequent three films were all men.
[bctt tweet=”It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason we collectively became so obsessed.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I’ve written about the terse relationship between women and films before, and 50 Shades is eerily repeating the pattern that the Twilight series laid out before it (which, I guess, makes sense). Being a woman in an industry largely dominated by men forces your work to be judged as woman first, product second. Unfortunately, a large number of people will point their finger to Fifty Shades as evidence that female filmmakers are only good for making shitty films that make money. On the positive side, the box office numbers guarantee that we’ll be seeing a lot more women-centric films coming from Hollywood soon. However, films like these do very little in ameliorating the female filmmaker’s public image or increasing the respect we receive. Sure, we’ve got the likes of Kathryn Bigelow, Sofia Coppola, Lisa Cholodenko, and Ava DuVernay making serious, critically-acclaimed films, and even auteurs such as Nora Ephron and Amy Heckerling creating original and entertaining romantic comedies. Yet, none of these films exploded the way Fifty Shades did.
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reason we collectively became so obsessed with a poorly written Twilight fanfiction; was it the sex? The fantasy of an ordinary girl melting the heart of a stone cold heartthrob? The even better fantasy of a billionaire falling in love with you? Probably all three. Regardless, it seems as if women collectively make an event out of seeing films such as Fifty Shades, partly to joke about it and partly to see ourselves onscreen. It’s somewhat humiliating that our selection of lady movies to gather around is so poor, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Personally, I think that the somewhat taboo topic of BDSM is what drew so many to the film, which is frustrating because Anastasia is repeatedly portrayed as an instrument to Christian’s sexual urges. I’m not going to rehash or debate the blurred lines of Anastasia and Christian’s sexual relationship; it’s pretty clear that there was an element of abuse there. So here’s a proposition, Hollywood– for your next female blockbuster, hire a woman to direct a well written, sex-positive film starring a woman! Our society is still so fascinated by the female physique and sexuality, it will most definitely make money. I promise.
[bctt tweet=”Personally, I think that the somewhat taboo topic of BDSM drew so many to the film.” username=”wearethetempest”]
Until then, satisfy your desire for kinky sex, complicated relationships, and layered female characters with Secretary. Seriously. It’s fantastic.