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’50 Shades of…Black’? On The Novel’s Film Adaptation w/ Black Leads, Hypothetically Speaking

'50 Shades of...Black'? On The Novel's Film Adaptation w/ Black Leads, Hypothetically Speaking

In light of the recent media coverage regarding the casting fiasco of the upcoming

E.L. James’ erotic novel 50 Shades of Grey film adaptation (Dakota Johnson is set to play Anastasia Steel; Charlie Hunnam abruptly dropped out of the Christian Grey role), I thought we could reflect on the significance – if any – of this novel and its “controversial” premise in regards to black American culture. 

This is not in any way insinuating that there should be, in fact, a film adaptation of 50 Shades of Grey, comprised of black characters. However, I thought it would be interesting to broach the topic of this immensely popular – and polarizing novel due to its questionable literary value and anti-feminist themes – in an effort to reflect and ponder upon how this cultural “phenomenon,” of a book, and eventual film, translates into black American culture.

Hypothetically speaking, here is, oh let’s say, Michael Ealy – or *insert* Omari Hardwick, Anthony Mackie, Lance Gross? – as über-successful and wealthy and entrepreneur Christian Grey, who seems to be more concerned about devising methods of sexual domination – rather than his business – for his penthouse “dungeon,” where he keeps paddles, handcuffs and whips. 

Our Christian Grey is actively searching for his submissive, played by, oh let’s say, Keke Palmer, Zoe Kravitz, Yaya DaCosta, or Nicole Beharie (the last two may be too old for the part, I know, just roll with it for now), as the ingénue and school of journalism intern, who, after interviewing him for her school editorial, is taken aback by the mysterious and powerful Grey, who begins pursuing her at the local hardware store where she works, and offers to pay her bills, wine and dine her, and give her rides in his helicopter (no pun intended) in exchange for her absolute submission in and out of the bedroom. 

Well, maybe it isn’t such a bad idea after all! Sign me up! 

But seriously, as mentioned earlier, there has been plenty of criticism of 50 Shades by readers of all genders, ethnicities and creeds, in spite of its mega popularity. I’m in no way suggesting that white people are a monolith, and on board with the book’s premise as a whole, but a sizable demographic – and not just Caucasians – are certainly aboard this ship. For many of the latter, the book proposes to indulge in a fantasy, a guilty pleasure, which goes awry and messy, since our protagonists fall in love in the process. Oh the travesty! 

Undoubtedly, many of those 50 Shades’ readers, are black women, and maybe even black men, who regaled in these fantasies. After all, it’s human to do so. It’s human to explore erotica, gender role-play and its elements of femininity and masculinity; it is primal; it doesn’t carry societal notions of feminism, racial innuendoes, and it isn’t conscious of social conduct and behavior. Fantasies of domination and subjugation are nothing new or revolutionary.

Nevertheless, the “BDSM” – or whatever you call – sex industry is alive and well, and I’m sure it’s not just Caucasians fueling it! 

Fantasies are just that, fantasies, which have nothing to do with how we wish to carry ourselves or be treated by others in our daily lives. For example, women who have the ostensible erotic “rape” fantasy, which is, in no way, shape or form, an innate desire to be raped. These are carefully calculated and controlled by the indulger, and imagined with a “perpetrator” of choice. 

It’s interesting to note how such a premise with black characters may come across as unfeasible, since it’s hard enough to see films with black characters in erotic storylines green lit, by a major studio nonetheless; hell, it’s hard enough to get black films that aren’t comedies funded. 

Contrary to white Americans and the mainstream media, black culture in the medium has been plagued and bombarded by archetypes of the strong black woman, the proverbial black pimp, the abusive and angry black man, the dominating black woman. For many of us, when it comes to images of black male domination relative to its relationship to the black woman, what comes to mind are the unfortunate Ike Turner/abusive husband, and the proverbial pimp, the philandering player to name a few, which aren’t what the “universal” premise of the novel is about. Grey is supposedly enigmatically complex, a secretive man who harbors some “dark” fantasies. 

We also don’t share the history of our Caucasian counterparts, a history of forced subjugation, of slavery, and the horrors of it; the latter may have something to do with why the topic of submission/domination isn’t readily entertained, at least in the public/mainstream spectrum. However, a black re-imagining of 50 Shades, or something similar, would be entirely unrelated to the history between whites and blacks. It would be about the dynamics between 2 characters – who happen to be black – and this “peculiar” situation they find themselves in. It might even sound cinematically progressive to some – depending on how it’s done – or, set women and men back 2,500 years, depending on your perspective. 

By the way, I’m not necessarily eagerly anticipating the film having read the first book, which was just about enough to get the gist of the story and get a feel of where it was headed. I just hope that they keep Anastasia’s inner dialogue – the redundant, cliché’d and ham-fisted expressions like “Oh myyy” and “earth shattering orgasm..again!” – while engaged in these sexual encounters are kept out of the film, and not included via voiceovers.

For those black readers of the novel, did you happen to re-envision the characters as black? If you “indulged” in it, how would you like to see a similar premise adapted or “translated” into a film with black protagonists? Is BDSM even more of a taboo for African Americans?

 

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