I applaud the recent decision of Deb Proby, owner of Raven’s Cry Theatre in Sechelt, BC, not to screen the movie Fifty Shades of Grey. She said she was concerned what impact this portrayal of a sado-masochistic relationship would have on teen viewers, particularly girls. Such sensitivity for impressionable audience members is rare in today’s cutthroat media market.
Proby has shared her own story in the news. She grew up reading Harlequin romances, succumbing to the myth of noble Adonis figures saving hankie-clenching, adoring females. But in her first marriage, she discovered the brutal, shadow side of this fantasy: her husband beat her.
Therefore, Proby didn’t want to perpetuate any further stereotypes that might wrongly influence young teens, either in suggesting that it was okay for men to physically abuse women (think Jian Ghomeshi) or that women should remain passive receivers of any male sexual whim or fantasy.
Today’s societies, in almost all cultures, already have far too many examples of skewed power dynamics that harm women in heterosexual relationships, whether it’s Ghomeshi or Bill Cosby or every rape and sexual assault that occurs between strangers or an intimate couple. At the extreme end of the spectrum, we have rape-murders and female genital mutilation.
I must say, up front, that I have not seen the film Fifty Shades of Grey nor read the book. I do know that the story portrays an S&M relationship between a young woman and an older business tycoon. It’s based on the bestseller by E. L. James, a woman, which has sold more than 100 million copies and has been translated into 52 languages. I’ve read and heard from people that the writing in both the book and movie is lousy.
It’s distressing to learn that this depiction of a sexual relationship has found such widespread appeal. Is sexual domination of a female the ultimate fantasy for far too many people?
Traditionally, men have controlled the images that we, as a society, are meant to see as sexually alluring or titillating, whether it’s in pornography or advertising. In most of these depictions, the woman’s primary role has been to tempt, then sexually satisfy, the man; her own sexual pleasure is deemed secondary or irrelevant.
It’s disturbing to me that a woman wrote Fifty Shades of Grey, and she is now receiving outlandish rewards for her gender portrayals: she has a line of sex toys, wine, and other franchise merchandising. Sadly, as we’ve always known, sex sells.
In contrast, I think of a presentation by a female director I heard more than three decades ago in Vancouver. She made erotic films. Her movie clips portrayed empowered women choosing how and when they wanted to make love, with loving and respectful men who viewed them as equals, not as objectified symbols of their own lust.
However, she had difficulties encouraging her female actors in these positive portrayals; she encouraged them to improvise and explore their own fantasies and sexual fulfillment. Yet, most had worked in the porn industry. They were used to roles that demanded they start with giving a blow job, not seeking their own pleasure. They found the transition to self-empowerment challenging.
As for Proby’s decision, some have faulted her for not applying a similar restriction on violent movies. For instance, she recently screened An American Sniper, which one media outlet called “war porn.” Is her stance on sex versus violence hypocritical? Violent movies and Fifty Shades of Grey equally received an R-rating.
Ideally, it would be great if Hollywood movies were not so violent; I decry their power in influencing vulnerable minds. However, since most drama hinges on conflict, violence appears inevitable. If Proby were to eliminate violent movies from her roster, there would be little chance she could remain in business. Hollywood seems obsessed with violence.
March 9, 2015 at 2:59 pm Comments (0)