Editor’s note: Per Sergio’s box office report, “50 Shades of Grey,” which opened over the weekend, grossed an astounding $85 million, exceeding expectations! In light of that news, here’s a piece first published on this blog in 2013, when the film adaptation of the novel had been packaged for production, which I though was worth revisiting.
In light of the 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 trailer for “50 Shades of Grey”: