50 Shades of… What? A Feminist Perspective

I had too. I felt I could not criticize 50 Shades of Grey properly if I did not personally watch the film, and after seeing it tonight, I have to say…. what? I realized quite early in my adventure that my pre-conceived notions of the film were highly influenced by the various posts on Facebook and various other blogs which painted the film in less than favorable colors, as even standing in line to see it… was slightly embarrassing. To begin, I have read the books and my perspective on them have always been rather complicated as the strange stalker/ control-freak Grey creeped me out, yet the topic of kink in mainstream society and social media culture excited me. As the theater was packed to the brim and everyone was more excitedly loud then one would usually find within a movie theater, I guarded myself against the worse affront seen on the big screen since Tom Green.

I can say honestly that the movie was not nearly as bad as I had expected. Yes, there were questionable aspects which mirrored events and dialogue in the original books, but the script and production team were brilliantly aware of themselves and the content they were portraying. A large criticism which I too take issue with is the creep factor of one Christian Grey as he is manipulative, controlling and staker-like. The movie is entirely aware of this and largely succeeds at turning those uncomfortable traits into comedic relief. Anna is wonderfully refreshing as an awkward yet quick-witted character which one personally did not see in the novels. I would not argue that the movie makes light of emotional and physical abuse within some relationships but I would argue that it is self-aware and therefore self-reflective. Don’t get me wrong, the horribly, un-savory “personality” of Grey is not magically gone but it seems they attempted to make some of his more rough edges consumer and big screen ready.

I also liked the fact that the movie ended on a note about consent. I won’t spoil anything for folks (because spoilers go to the 10th level of hell for that especially heinous crime) but Steele tells Grey to stop (which he doesn’t listen too), but then she very firmly said No and that stopped him in his tracks. This may be minor but I appreciate the intense and much needed note of consent at the end, especially in light of a lot of the criticism around the books. Though lets be honest, he should have stopped at Stop…

So obviously I had some issues with the movie because frankly there were problems on a lot of levels and fronts which are grievous.

1) The movie-makers may have tried to scan over the totally ridiculous contract, but we saw it and heard. Forcing your submissive or any partner into getting birth-control- Nope. Being available for any sexual activities the Dominant wants, at any time (regardless, of what the Submissive wants)- Nope.

2) There was some steamy sex but did anyone else notice that the BDSM aspects were only really implemented in the foreplay or the building up to the sex. The kinkiest thing they did during sex was doggy style. This is not to say that all BDSM is about sex or penetration but considering the hyper about all the kinky sex… not that kinky.

3) I have a huge issue with how one of the last scenes was handled. They portray Steele as trapping or baiting Grey into pushing her too far then she freaks out and its not fair to Grey. This is not correct in a plethora of ways. Firstly, in a Dominant/ Submissive relationship the Sub is not the only one who has limits that must be respected. The Dominant’s limits have to be a part of the equation. That is why it is especially scary when one comes across a Submissive who will not use the safeword out of pride, stubbornness or a want to prove something. While the Submissive must trust the Dominant to stop when the safeword is used, a Dominant must be able to trust a Submissive to use that safeword and to not push the Dominant past their own limits. Secondly, while BDSM can be used to exercise personal and emotional demons, that is not how all BDSM relationships are. The depiction of Grey’s pension for BDSM as a direct result of gruesome childhood physical, emotional and sexual trauma is harmful to the community at large. Yes, there are some who have been abused who are a part of the community and unfortunately, abuse in many forms is far more rampant than any of us would comfortably admit, but not everyone in the community is a victim or perpetrator. Being Kinky, whether that is BDSM or not, is just changing up the routine and exploring various aspects of one’s sexuality and sensuality.

I would not say that the 50 Shades movie is a total write-off but I would simply say, enjoy with a grain (or two) of salt. Enjoy the wonderful world of kink, go out and buy a blindfold, even a flogger but do it safely with research and communication. I really wish the movie had mentioned the cardinal rule of kink and BDSM: Safe, Sane, and Consensual.

Overall, I would rate this movie a:

1/ 5 on Kink Factor

3/5 For not being as bad as I expected

4/5 for being an example of the long way STILL left to tread on our road to safe, sane, consensual kink on the big screen.

0/5 For Being So Hetero!

Lilith Out!

We wouldn’t accept actors blacking up, so why applaud ‘cripping up’? | Frances Ryan | Comment is free |

We wouldn’t accept actors blacking up, so why applaud ‘cripping up’?

Eddie Redmayne, who won a Golden Globe for playing Stephen Hawking, is the latest in a long line of non-disabled actors to portray disabled characters

“If you do a film about the Holocaust, you’re guaranteed an Oscar,” goes the famous Kate Winslet joke in Extras. The same can be said for an actor doing a film about disability. Unless you’re a disabled actor, that is. Then you’re lucky to even get the part.

This week, when Eddie Redmayne won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, he became the latest in a long line of non-disabled actors to portray disabled characters. And to walk away – literally – with an award for doing so. From Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot to Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man, the ability to play “disability” is a definite asset for an actor, a source of genuine acclaim.

But is this as harmless as mainstream audiences seem to see it? While “blacking up” is rightly now greeted with outrage, “cripping up” is still greeted with awards. Is there actually much difference between the two? In both cases, actors use prosthetics or props to alter their appearance in order to look like someone from a minority group. In both cases they often manipulate their voice or body to mimic them. They take a job from an actor who genuinely has that characteristic, and, in doing so, perpetuate that group’s under-representation in the industry. They do it for the entertainment of crowds who, by and large, are part of the majority group.

Daniel Radcliffe, centre, with Sarah Greene and Pat Shortt in The Cripple Of Inishmaan
Daniel Radcliffe, centre, with Sarah Greene and Pat Shortt in The Cripple Of Inishmaan at the Cort Theatre in New York. Photograph: Andrew Toth/Getty Images

The explanations for “cripping up” are obvious. The entertainment industry is a business, after all, and stars sell. When Daniel Radcliffe played a disabled orphan in The Cripple of Inishmaan this won more headlines for the production than if a disabled, lesser-known actor had been cast. On a practical level too, perhaps hiring a non-disabled actor is easier. The ability to walk allows Redmayne to portray Hawking before being diagnosed with motor neurone disease. But I can’t get away from the fact that, if these arguments were made for white actors “playing black”, our outrage would be so great that the scenes would be left on the cutting room floor.

There’s a theory of why non-disabled actors playing disabled characters leads to success: audiences find it reassuring. Christopher Shinn, a playwright who had a below-the-knee amputation, describes the act of watching a disabled character being played by an actor who we know is really fit and well as allowing society’s “fear and loathing around disability” to be “magically transcended”.

When it comes down to it, Shinn says, “pop culture is more interested in disability as a metaphor than in disability as something that happens to real people”.

Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot
Daniel Day Lewis in My Left Foot. Photograph: ITV/Rex Features

After all, disabled characters create powerful images and sentiments for audiences. They can symbolise the triumph of the human spirit over so-called “adversity”. They can represent what it is to be “different” in some way, an outsider or an underdog who ultimately becomes inspirational. These are universal feelings every audience member can identify with. And there is something a little comforting in knowing, as we watch the star jump around the red carpet, that none of it – the pain or negativity we still associate with disability – was real.

Perhaps that’s part of the problem. Perhaps as a society we see disability as a painful external extra rather than a proud, integral part of a person, and so it doesn’t seem quite as insulting to have non-disabled actors don prosthetics or get up from a wheelchair when the director yells “cut”. But for many disabled people in the audience, this is watching another person fake their identity. When it comes to race, we believe it is wrong for the story of someone from a minority to be depicted by a member of the dominant group for mass entertainment. But we don’t grant disabled people the same right to self-representation.

Perhaps it is time to think before we next applaud “cripping up”. Disabled people’s lives are more than something for non-disabled actors to play at.


We wouldn’t accept actors blacking up, so why applaud ‘cripping up’? | Frances Ryan | Comment is free |

On the Films of Catherine Breillat by Ranylt Richildis

Few things are more provocative than a camera in a subaltern’s hand, especially when she turns it on her oppressor. The films of Catherine Breillat do just that, reproving the scolds and taking aim at those who impose rules on women’s bodies, who claim to be their stewards, who make them ugly by calling them ugly, who insist that men know best when a female body is ready for play, who deny us a right to our own sexuality or (something we aren’t always allowed) a right of refusal. It’s discomfiting stuff for viewers of any sex and sexuality, but it’s rewarding if we accept that we still need to be challenged. And we do. Breillat explodes the myth of a post-feminist society by the very fact of her presence; her films could only be inspired in a lopsided culture.

With her rep gaining traction year by year, and with the arrival of Bluebeard on North American shores this summer, the InRO staff decided to crack open Breillat’s body of work and squint inside — no flinching. If her movies are lumped in with the New French Extremity school of cinema, it isn’t just because her frame embraces intimate body fluids and hair — those inescapable phenomena Margaret Atwood described as the marks that distinguish adults from kids. It’s also because her subject matter is hatred — hate as visceral as orgasm. Misogyny (internal or institutional) is Breillat’s target, and she’s noted for being able to capture the loathing that steals across a room between two figures who ought to revel in each other. Detractors argue that Breillat’s position is too ideological for the time, when some societies are relaxing ancient strictures — and yet her films could hardly be made before now. They certainly weren’t tolerated in 1976 when she screened A Real Young Girl, which was subsequently banned in France and elsewhere until a few years ago.

Some of Breillat’s films are oozy and wet-edged, some are allegorical, and some are less shocking than their content might suggest. By literally shining a lamp on the human crotch and by shifting subjectivity away from the lusting male, Breillat demystifies and normalizes female — and indeed all — desire. A novelist and songwriter as well as a filmmaker, Breillat creates rich cinema that communicates mood and message in manifold ways. She combines graphic shots with contemplative voice-overs and jars us with the frankness of being. Her sex stories are anti-romantic comedies that study motivations generated from earthy insides without reducing gender politics to mean essentialism. The war between the sexes is arbitrary, her work argues, and individual sexuality should never be compromised by the desires of others. It doesn’t matter how crazy that girl’s body makes you — it’s hers and hers alone. Her cunt can only disrupt society as much as society insists it does, and her desire is free to appear in increments or all at once. Breillat insists on this not just through story but through her women, who make defiant faces at the lens that declare to each their own.

Breillat isn’t denying that some men grant personhood to women. She’s addressing those who don’t and the women who accommodate them. She’s considering the larger systems that continue to feed these attitudes, which is her artist’s prerogative. Why do some viewers dispute Breillat’s right to critique a common enough predisposition that’s on the wane in only some parts of the world, and only within our own lifetimes? Critics who adopt a not my Nigel! stance obtusely sidestep the discussions these films are designed to provoke. Working outside of academe, Breillat is one of the most important feminists we have; women have reported not hating their sexuality as much after watching her movies, and that’s huge. That’s power — and one that obviously continues to agitate the props of tradition. In this way, Breillat’s nay-sayers validate her argument despite themselves. – Ranylt Richildis

Related: A retrospective of Romance

(Originally published on July 7, 2010 as part of In Review Online’s “directrospective” on the works of Catherine Breillat.

Go check out Ranylt Richildis’ website: