Fifty Shades Freed, But Are Women?
photo: Doane Gregory/Universal Pictures

“I had these sort of strapless thongs that had glue on them. It’s not glue, but it’s sticky,” she reveals. “They’re, like, basically if it were a nipple pastie, but underwear. But it’s only sticky at the top, it’s not sticky the whole way. It would also come off because the adhesive would wear out, so then they would superglue it to my body so that it wouldn’t fall off. And I would wear two of them. It’s not painful, I mean, it’s barely anything,” she adds. “But I guess you have some sense of being covered. It’s f**king bizarre.”Dakota Johnson [ET ONLINE]

THE BOX OFFICE smash, Fifty Shades of Freed, arrived on time for Valentine’s Day 2018. The last film in E. L. James’s trilogy, the trailer teases what’s coming. I’m never surprised by how people react to salacious sensuality in our culture, because there remains an embedded prejudice, and penchant, to apologize for a woman’s insatiable desires and curiosity, as if they’re an anomaly. There has also developed an anti-Fifty Shades campaign rooted in the storyline itself and the non-traditional sex.

Now, this isn’t a movie review. What I want to ask is what happens next?

When Fifty Shades of Grey became a worldwide phenomenon, a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health in August 2014 took up the dangers for women of such a decadent storyline. The Independent covered the findings. An excerpt from the study:

Fiction or not, millions of women are consuming messages in Fifty Shades that normalize and glamorize violence against women, under the guise of romance and eroticism. A pressing question remains: What is the empirical correlation, if any, between health risks and reading popular fiction depicting violence against women?

To associate the story of Fifty Shades of Grey with “violence against women” is to say consensual exploration meant to test the limits of a person’s pleasure threshold is tantamount to a crime. It’s preposterous, but what’s worse is that it continues to infantilize women as individuals incapable of curiosity and the sense to protect themselves when adventuring into the boundless arena of pleasure.

When the online sex, and dating worlds opened for public consumption, I was in the thick of it. I’ve seen victimization and have written about it in my novels, books, and my advice column when I was with the LA Weekly, the most popular alternative newsweekly at the time. I advised women on relationships for years, talked to men about pornography, and interviewed women in the adult industry.

The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy depicts two unlike people drawn to one another through physical chemistry. The man is the abused one, and the woman risks everything to heal him by meeting him on his sexual playground. She discovers she has a hedonistic itch too, which she explores with him. Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey excavate sex that opens into love. The author created a tied in a bow fantasy ending, which is as unnecessary as it is contrived but amid the sexual exploration it’s more comfortable when you know the people are committed.

So many times in American filmmaking, a woman with a voracious sexual appetite and persona to match pay a fateful price for craving sex that male characters never pay. Tyler Perry’s Temptation comes to mind but there are many others.

One would hope in the second decade of the 21st century people could separate consensual exploration from violence against women.

Fifty Shades of Freed turns one long tease — a perfect fit for the American psyche — into a happily ever after celebration. But not before the romantic storyline swerves into thriller territory.

The rescue of a woman from a bad guy is the quintessential romantic swoon.

Let’s hope the E. L. James trilogy has disabused overwrought academics, and cultural critics, conservatives and feminists alike, that women have a lot more in our sexual playbook than the average American male or husband has been willing to discover.

Romance in fiction opens a gateway to character development that a story without a relationship connection between the characters can’t match. When romance works in a novel it’s physically intimate.

Once is rarely enough for a woman, which seems to still shock our cultural senses, when it involves pushing puritanical prejudices out of bed and making room for more daring indulgences.

The good news of the Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy trip through Hollywood is the entire series made it into theatrical release and it was a smashing success, regardless of the critics.

Enter the #MeToo movement, which Hollywood has repurposed in #TimesUp, and just in time for the release of Fifty Shades Freed. Women talking back and joining together has galvanized a generation of women actors, writers, directors, producers, and filmgoers.

From the Hollywood Reporter in January 2018

When Universal releases Fifty Shades Freed on Feb. 9, it will close the final chapter on the S&M trilogy that already has earned nearly $1 billion worldwide. The third installment marks a happily-ever-after ending for kinky couple Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. But it also may prove to be the finale for studio-financed sex-fueled films.

As Hollywood begins to navigate the #MeToo landscape, one of the first casualties appears to be big-screen erotica. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, studios are steering clear of sex.

Don’t believe it.

#MeToo has nothing to do with consensual sex, and neither does #TimesUp.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, All the Money in the World‘s David Scarpa plans an “old-school bacchanal” in his upcoming remake of Cleopatra that is, “Dirty, bloody, lots of people swearing and having sex and all of that.”

Sounds like date night at the movies to me.


TM NOTE: This piece is published in the Books Go Social “Romance Magazine,” available at this link.