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’50 Shades of… Black’? On the Novel’s Film Adaptation w/ Black Leads… (First Trailer)

'50 Shades of... Black'? On the Novel's Film Adaptation w/ Black Leads... (First Trailer)

In light of the release of the very first trailer for the upcoming film adaptation of E.L. James’ erotic novel “50 Shades of Grey” (Dakota Johnson is set to play Anastasia Steel; Jamie Dornan fills 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 (although there is a film adaptation of erotic fiction author Zane’s novel “Addicted” set for release later this year). 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, could translate as a film starring black Americans.

Hypothetically speaking, here is, oh let’s say, Michael Ealy – or *insert* Omari Hardwick, Anthony Mackie, Lance Gross? – as über-successful and wealthy entrepreneur Christian Grey, who seems to be more concerned about devising methods of sexual domination – rather than focusing on 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 are all on board with the book’s premise as a whole, but a sizable demographic – and not just white people – 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 regale in these fantasies in their real lives. 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. The practices don’t innately aren’t innately burdened, if you will, any societal notions of feminism, racial concerns whether overt or buried, and it isn’t conscious of social conduct and behavior. Fantasies of domination and subjugation are nothing new nor revolutionary.

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

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 rare enough for films with black characters in erotic storylines to be greenlit, 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 relationships in the cinematic realm have 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, and other extremes. 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, for example, the unfortunate Ike Turner/abusive husband, the proverbial pimp, the philandering player, to name a few – stereotypes that have absolutely nothing to do with what the “universal” premise of the novel is. 

Grey is supposedly enigmatically complex – a secretive man who harbors some “dark” fantasies. 

We also don’t share a history with our white American counterparts – specifically, 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, especially when it involves an interracial pairing, 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, and your own individual perspective – or, it also might set women and men back 2,500 years. 

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 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 voiceo-overs.

For those readers of the novel who happen to be black, as you were reading it, did you 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?

Here’s the first trailer for “50 Shades of Grey”:

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Hi Vanessa,

I read the free fan fiction version of the novel before it became 50 shades and was picked up by a major publisher. Since it started out as a a fan fic of Twilight, I didn't imagine the characters are black. The author made it quite clear in her descriptions of the characters that they were white (the eye color references are but one example).

I think as more African Americans decide to become indie filmmakers and cameras become more affordable (the black magic cinema pocket camera is currently on sale for $495.00, and it's a good entry level camera for budding filmmakers/directors/screenwriters) we'll see various tales that include sexual escapades, but I hope also, a fair amount of love and respect.

I couldn't get into the sequels for 50 Shades, and I'm not going to see the film but I'm sure the movie will make money, as some will attend out of curiosity while others truly loved the entire series.

Miles Ellison

Bad S&M mommy porn dipped in chocolate is still bad S&M mommy porn.


I would be interested to hear from black women, on this blog, who have read the book, if they're excited and going to see the film.


Very well written and interesting piece, Tambay. I haven't read the book and don't plan on it, but I do have black girlfriends who did and swooned over its content. And I might take a look at the movie once it hits cable. Since the female character (Dakota Johnson) is a very average looking woman and the male protagonist is incredibly hot, so I can see why women, of all races, would be drawn to the content of either medium. It's every woman's sexual fantasy to be with an incredibly hot guy. And vice versa for men.

As for putting black characters in the same scenario it would be interesting. Definitely doable and believeable. As you pointed out, ZANE occupies that space in her books with black characters, and at one point Cinemax had a TV show based on material written by Zane. Don't know what happened to it.

Beyond the uncomfortable issues and history surrounding the subjagation of blacks in this country, I believe what's more troubling is if there was a black movie counterpart made, whites' inability to support it in droves. In my movie going experience about the closest thing some whites will support with black actors is a black rom-com, which, still, of course, has the word "comedy" attached. … I mean, again, Zane has been at this longer than EL James (?), but if you were to ask many white people — and possibly black, I don't know — who she is. They wouldn't have a clue.

Up In The Balcony

"Put it DOWN, stop fantasizing about the ways of white folks." Yeah, assimilation sho' is funky.

**Black Statler and his buddy are heard reminiscing about the ways of black folks, especially those who enjoy a little "cream" in their coffee**

Statler: That 50 Shades book is a bunch of bullsh*t. It just dilutes and pollutes the minds of a few wannebee "white" negros.
Waldorf: Hmmm… I'll bite. If I have a black cup of coffee that is too strong, I weaken it by pouring cream into it. I integrated with cream. If I keep pouring enough cream in the coffee, pretty soon the entire flavor of the coffee is changed.

"Oh! philosophizing today, are we? Okay, now i'll bite. I believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they'll create their own "program". Now, top that… with your signifying monkey self.

"Slow down, I'm not signifying, but I had a dream that little black boys and black girls in America will some day be able to join hands with little white girls as sisters and brother"

"Oh, you gonna hit me with MLK, huh? Well, in respect to 50 filthy shades of gray, I don't see an American dream, I see an American nightmare"

[ Statler and Waldorf's conversation is stopped by a knock on the door. After saying "come in" the door opens, in walks Sergio Mims, Sly & The Family Stone, and the Temptations]

Statler continues: As I was saying, all I see is an American Nightmare

[Sergio forgot his hearing aid]… "What… did I hear Yak-hair!? I just don't understand black women who pay their hard earned money to look like white woman… and still look like hell"

[ While the door was open, a monkey slipped in. It's a talking monkey called Ceasar *wink*]

"Hey y'all, whats poppin'… listen, all I know is… from humans… Koba learned hatred"

Temptation: "Damn, that monky is talkin' real sh*t, but could someone tell him to take his di*k outta my ear. Anyway, let me sound the trumpets. Join in, I'm sure you know the song… "People movin' out
People movin' in
Why, because of the color of their skin [run, run, run, but you sho' can't hide]
An eye for an eye
A tooth for a tooth
Vote for me and I'll set you free!

[ Everyone joins in] "Rap on Brother, rap on]

**Not to be outdone, Sly Stone tops off the party with a line from Family Affair**

Sly: "One child grows up to be, somebody who just loves to learn… and another child grows up to be somebody you'd just love to burn…" NOW DROP, STOP and burn that F'n book.

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