The famed playwright Oscar Wilde once said, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.” As it turns out, both are true.
Years before the ongoing #MeToo movement, when sharing true accounts of sexual abuse became not only acceptable but encouraged in society, art — if one could even call it that — was already telling fictional tales of such behavior.
That behavior, though, was — and is — praised, elevated and romanticized. For example, novelist E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades” trilogy, whose first installment, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” was published in 2011 and graced the silver screen in 2015.
Since then, the books and the films have garnered plenty of criticism over the years, but the release of the latest installment, “Fifty Shades Freed,” is particularly poignant, given it comes at the peak of the #MeToo movement and Time’s Up era.
The erotic films seem to roll out the red carpet and put Hollywood’s hypocrisy on brilliant display. While Tinseltown is roiling with allegations of sexual wrongdoing, it’s releasing a trilogy that blurs the lines between sexual abuse and adventurism.
In fact, anti-pornography group Fight the New Drug is highlighting that very juxtaposition with its latest campaign, “Fifty Shades of Love.”
#FiftyShadesOfLove encourages individuals to take a stand against abuse in all forms and fight for healthy relationships that respect consent, promote equality, and are devoid of physical and verbal aggression. https://t.co/ekTstWvchK pic.twitter.com/y4ixiiLKKq
— FIGHTERS (@FightTheNewDrug) February 7, 2018
In 2015, Gail Dines, a women’s studies professor at Wheelock College in Boston and an anti-pornography activist, called on people to boycott the “Fifty Shades” books and movies.
“Unlucky women who meet sadistic Christian Greys of the world are likely to end up in a cemetery,” she said. “And yet women of all ages are swooning over this guy and misreading his obsessive, cruel behavior as evidence of love and romance.”
And in a recent interview with Fight the New Drug, she described the series, and the hypocrisy that follows it, as “typical Hollywood,” adding, “I think it’s absolutely incredible that they are releasing this movie at a time when we are beginning to really see how Hollywood was built by predatory men who use young women.”
It seems the trilogy’s intense sexual narrative wasn’t lost on the films’ leading stars — Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson — either.
Dornan, who portrays Christian Grey, said in 2015 that after visiting a “sex dungeon” to prepare for the movie, he had to take “a long shower before touching either of them,” referring to his wife and newborn baby.
— julie rybarczyk (@shortsandlongs) February 12, 2018
The “Fifty Shades” trilogy is far more than just entertainment. The series normalizes the very abuse the #MeToo movement is seeking to eradicate. While consent might play a role in the trilogy, the romanticization of sexually aggressive behavior and the conflation of love and sex-crazed infatuation certainly overshadows it.
A 2014 study found a connection between women who read the “Fifty Shades” books and those who suffer serious health risks, such as binge drinking, using diet aids, abstaining from food for more than 24 hours, and remaining with verbally abusive partners.
The survey “showed strong correlations between health risks in women’s lives — including violence victimization — and consumption of ‘Fifty Shades,’ a fiction series that portrays violence against women,” the study concluded.
Natale McAneney, executive director at Fight the New Drug, described the success of the “Fifty Shades” trilogy as “unsettling” because it’s “championed as empowering when its protagonist is living a #MeToo experience.”
“Selling violence, inequality and manipulation as romance doesn’t change the fact that it's still abuse,” she added.
Hollywood still has a long road ahead, and this movie should serve as a reminder that the journey away from hypocrisy and toward healthy sexuality has only just begun.
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Please note: This is a commentary piece. The views and opinions expressed within it are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the editorial opinion of IJR.