This Valentines weekend saw the release of the this year’s biggest and most controversial film so far; an adaptation of EL James’ ‘erotic novel’, Fifty Shades of Grey. That’s right; what started out as fan fiction about Twilight, has now made it to the big-screen and is set to take massive amounts of money from fans and newcomers alike. People have been booking in their droves to see the cinematic realisation of Mr Grey, Anastasia, and the world of sadomasochism in which she is introduced to; but I for one will not be rushing out to see it. As a fan of film, I’m a firm believer that you can’t judge one until you’ve seen it, whether that be Peppa Pig: The Movie or anything from the destroyer of film, Michael Bay. An open mind is crucial when pursuing film criticism, as well as passion and a willingness to watch everything. I do my best, but I’ve decided to draw the line with Fifty Shades of Grey for a number of reasons.
First of all, let me be clear; I’m not prudent when it comes to sex in film. It’s a natural part of human life, so it makes sense that it should be explored and examined in all art forms. The issue I have with Fifty Shades of Grey is that it represents a skewed portrayal of sex, which hides behind the excuse of escapism, but remains potentially damaging for mainstream audiences. I know; if you don’t like it, don’t watch it right? I totally agree, and for anybody who chooses to go and see the film for whatever reason, it’s absolutely their right to do so. The problem is, it isn’t quite that clear cut anymore, with this hyper-sexualisation creeping into even the most innocent of films. The male gaze has always been a part of cinema, but has evolved into something more leering and laddish. Going back to Michael Bay, his films are renowned for objectifying women, often choosing actresses based on their modelling careers as opposed to acting ability. His female ‘characters’ usually serve as nothing more than ‘eye-candy’ with an emphasis placed on their derrière’s or how they look in underwear, as opposed to their personality. Such a blatant lack of respect to women in films like Transformers, which will reach a huge audience of impressionable teenagers, is simply unacceptable, but has sadly become the norm. I often think of the scene in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life , where George Bailey arrives at the alternate Bedford Falls, to find it filled with strip bars and casinos. It’s a 1940’s vision of hell that has become a reality, as western culture has become more relaxed and accepting of such vices. This watershed has made an impact on both television and film with popular shows such as Game of Thrones, regularly straying into the realms of soft-porn.
There’s an increasing demand for adult programming in the theatres and at home, which isn’t a bad thing, but in the right context. What’s interesting is that it’s always the glossy, Hollywood soap-opera-type films, that take so much money in the multiplexes and reach such a wide audience. Films like Blue is the Warmest Colour or Stranger by the Lake, both of which deal with gay relationships in explicit detail, are hardly even noticed, if at all, by the regular cinema-goer. Take films which depict sex between two men or two women and hardly anybody is interested, with most destined to play for a short time at an art house cinema. Even films that deal with sex addiction in an honest and raw way like Steve Mcqueen’s Shame, hardly get a chance to prove themselves at the box office before disappearing from the cinema altogether. It seems then that people are comfortable with sex in film, as long as it’s on their terms. I know there are exceptions, like John Woo’s Brokeback Mountain, which have transcended art-house cinema and broken the box-office; but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a rarity.
I freely admit that I haven’t seen the film or read the book, so I’m basing my judgements here on the incessant marketing material that has been banded around, as well as the reactions of trusted friends and critics alike. You don’t have to be a devoted cinephile to guess how the sex in the film will be represented. Fifty Shades of Grey purportedly glorifies sexual violence, with members of the BDSM community left outraged by its portrayal in the film, to the point where there’s been a boycott in the States. Feminist groups have also spoken out about the film, particularly angered by one sex scene in which Ana asks Christian Grey to stop, yet he continues regardless. In the real word, that is rape, yet cloaked in all the glamour of a supposed whirl-wind romance, it’s apparently okay. Whilst anybody should quite clearly be able to see that this isn’t right, there’s no denying the danger in the message that it sends out to the general public.
To me, Fifty Shades of Grey represents another example of Faux-feminist-film-making, that claims to be made for women, yet represents them in the usual submissive and sexist stereotype. Soderbergh’s Magic Mike is another example. It claims to reverse the roles, putting women in the position of power by making men the sexual objects; yet there’s still plenty of sexualised female nudity throughout, that usually occurs in derogatory scenes of threesomes or foursomes. The amount of nudity shown on-screen is quite clearly unbalanced as well, with an increasing amount of films boasting full-frontal female nudity, yet when it comes to men, there isn’t a penis in sight. The same applies to Fifty Shades which according to The Guardian’s chief film-critic, Peter Bradshaw, never reveals Mr Grey’s infamous penis-popsicle, leaving us to wonder if he even has one at all. I don’t think objectifying men or women is right, but the scales are massively off-balance in mainstream cinema in this respect. This proves to me that while Hollywood seems to have become quite adept at marketing films for a female audience, there’s no denying that it is the men who are still in control.
As I’ve said already, I have neither read the book or seen the adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey, but that shouldn’t render my opinion null and void. I refuse to watch it, not just because I think it’s morally abhorrent, but to prove a point, however futile that may be. Because the truth is, until we as a culture and cinema-going audience take a stand against films like Fifty Shades of Grey, more films like it will be churned out. For change to occur, it’s up to us to tell the film-makers and production companies in control what we want, by refusing to buy a ticket for something we disagree with. I’m not calling for censorship of sex in cinema and think it can be portrayed in a poetic aand humanistic way. Even a bit of escapist fun is okay, providing it’s handled in a sensitive way. Unfortunately, whether through a lack of understanding, or caring, movies like Fifty Shades and Wolf of Wall Street, which portray women and sex in such a seedy and frankly dangerous manner, are as popular as ever, taking huge amounts of money at the box-office. Until a change is made, this means sexism will survive and flourish in film, television and culture, which in the 21st century, is a truly saddening thing indeed.