Domestic violence campaigners and religious groups are opposed to the BDSM-filled film, but it is anticipated to be one of the most successful releases of the year, with Imax screenings now planned
Thanks to its blend of sadomasochistic sex and manipulative characters, the film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey has become the target of protests from a number of religious groups and domestic violence campaigners.
Based on the bestselling book by EL James, it centres on Christian Grey, an emotionally-damaged billionaire playboy and sadist who seduces the relatively innocent Anastasia Steele. Last week the hashtag #50dollarsnot50shades was being used by a number of anti-pornography and anti-abuse campaigners to encourage would-be viewers of the film to spend their money on women’s shelters instead. Now another campaign, Fifty Shades is Domestic Abuse, is planning to target the London premiere of the film.
The campaign’s leader, Natalie Collins, argues that while she isn’t opposed to the famous BDSM scenes, other behaviour of its controlling central character crosses into abuse. “Is it romantic when somebody tracks your phone, when somebody knows where you live before you tell them, sells your only means of transport, or buys the company you work for?” she told the Mirror.
“I have spoken to people who have said that [Grey] was abused as a child and that is why he is the way he is. It is also very dangerous to suggest that people abuse because of their childhood and that women can fix broken men with enough love.”
The American Family Association, a conservative group lobbying for Christian morality, is unhappy with the sex scenes. President Tim Wildmon argues that the “evil” film “will have a corrosive effect on cultural views of what normative sexuality ought to be”. He too opposed the storyline, saying it “glorifies abusive relationships and glamourises abusive tendencies such as stalking, bondage sex, intimidation and isolation”.
While the book’s content is well-known, none of the protestors have actually seen the film, which receives its premiere at the Berlin film festival this week. Its director, Turner-nominated artist Sam Taylor-Johnson, told the Guardian that she tried to be even-handed in the depiction of the problematic central relationship.
“I thought, if we can take this girl on a journey, where we empower her and don’t leave her as a victim, that’s job done … We start with Anastasia coming into his world and grappling with it, so she’s an autonomous person … Yes, the film is hardcore in places, there’s dominance in places – but at no point did I feel like it had crossed a boundary.” Taylor-Johnson has reportedly signed up to helm the second film in the series, Fifty Shades Darker.
One of the film’s few viewers so far is the Sun, who claimed that it makes “every one of those 11 minutes [of sex scenes] count, with boobs, bums and even a glimmer of Jamie’s manhood making it on to the silver screen.”
Thanks to its blend of edgy sex, swooning romance and aspirational luxury – a toxic mix to the film’s detractors – Fifty Shades of Grey is expected to be a huge success, with an estimated $60m opening in the US. It has even been picked up for Imax screenings, the giant format generally used for big action or sci-fi films, and very rarely for drama. “We’re doing it literally at the last moment. We’ll be part of it and get some of the walk-up business,” said Imax CEO Greg Foster.
While it seems in little danger of being heavily boycotted in the UK or US, Malaysia has banned the film, citing “scenes that are not of natural sexual content.” Protestors have won some other, smaller victories. Tea company Twinings launched new boxes for its English Breakfast and Earl Grey ranges with the tagline “we’re tea-sing you with our limited edition designs”. However, the ranges were pulled following customer complaints.
There were also a small number of complaints after US store Target placed a range of Fifty Shades paraphernalia, including blindfolds and vibrating sex toys, next to a display of children’s toothbrushes.
Welywn Garden City meanwhile was reaching for the smelling salts after a poster for the film, featuring a blindfolded Johnson in the throes of passion, was put up outside the town’s cinema. “The poster reflects the erotic nature of the film and was not explicit, but we understand if some people have taken offence,” said a cinema spokesperson, after the poster was taken down.
Amid the mania, it’s open season for shameless PR stunts, as companies try to shackle themselves to the Fifty Shades craze – everything from baby clothes to fabric softener has been branded up. The latest is B&Q writing a staff memo in which they are told to prepare stocks of bondage equipment such as gaffa tape – referencing a scene in which Grey goes shopping for cable ties. The AMC cinema chain meanwhile has urged cinemagoers not to bring “props/costumes that would make guests uncomfortable, or detract from the movie-going experience”.
This article was written by Ben Beaumont-Thomas, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 10th February 2015 10.59 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010