Credit Alexander Krivitskiy via Unsplash

The legacy of Fifty Shades of Grey

By Ellie Smith

Sex on screen is getting out of hand.

The original Fifty Shades of Grey film amassed $569.7 million at the box office. Initially written by E.L James as Twilight fanfiction, the film follows Anastasia (Ana), an English student, who meets the billionaire businessman, Christian Grey. They begin a sexual relationship that involves Grey’s Red Room – a room full of bondage equipment. Most of the film is dedicated to Christian and Ana either having sex, talking about sex, or going on hugely extravagant dates (see their helicopter ride over Seattle). The sex scenes total twenty minutes: one-fifth of the screen time. The release of the Fifty Shades trilogy then led to a whole new genre of smutty films – including 365 Days and the After series. All use the same clichés – boy and girl meet, fall in love (or lust), and an abundance of sex scenes.

While the Fifty Shades trilogy is generally regarded as a success, its plot and acting are weak. Although this may result from the characterisation in the books (Ana is based on Bella from Twilight, who has the personality of a brick wall), sex is also the focal point of 365 Days and After, at the expense of an intellectually challenging plot. Indeed, in Fifty Shades, people aren’t invested in Christian and Ana’s romantic relationship, merely their sexual one. 

Nowadays it is rare to watch a romance film without some kind of graphic sex scene, including those with lower age ratings. This is setting a dangerous precedent. Sex in films is not representative of the sex people have in everyday life. Not only is it overly rehearsed, but the lack of focus on female pleasure also risks perpetuating harmful and misogynist stereotypes about sex. Furthermore, many of these films are on streaming services without age limits. While this is a better alternative for children to consume than pornography, their depiction of sex becomes only more polished, not more honest. 

The legacy of Fifty Shades of Grey is a portrayal of sex on screen that undermines otherwise important elements of films and is far removed from reality. It shouldn’t just be overprotective parents that withhold their unconditional support.


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