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 religious groups and antidomestic violence campaigners across the world.
Based on the 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 antipornography and antiabuse 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 although she isn’t opposed to BDSM (various practices including dominance, submission and restraint) 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. Its 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 glamorises abusive tendencies such as stalking, bondage sex, intimidation and isolation”.
Although the book’s content is well-known, none of the protesters have seen the film, which premiered at the Berlin film festival this week. Its director, 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 hard-core in places, there’s dominance in places – but at no point did I feel like it had crossed a boundary.”
There is little danger of the film being boycotted in the United Kingdom and the United States, but Malaysia has banned the film, citing “scenes that are not of natural sexual content”.
Protesters have won some victories. There were 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. – © Guardian News & Media 2015