February 8, 2015

No ‘Grey’ areas for detractors, fans of film based on erotic book

Suzanna Perez Tobias
February 7, 2015
The Wichita Eagle

Local fans of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” E.L. James’ erotic best-seller, say they’re ready for their big-screen rendezvous with Christian Grey.

“He’s the ultimate bad boy,” said Tonya Lorenz of Wichita, who read the novel a few summers ago and plans to see the movie with nearly two dozen girlfriends when it officially opens Friday.

“He’s successful, he’s ambitious, he’s powerful, and yet he’s kind of emotionally disturbed,” she said. “In a weird sort of way, I think it does show that love can heal all wounds.”

Not long after tickets to “Fifty Shades of Grey” went on sale last month, it became the fastest-selling R-rated film in Fandango’s history, as fans of the novel planned for a steamy Valentine’s Day weekend. The film opens in Wichita on Friday, with early shows at some theaters Thursday.

But not everyone is eagerly anticipating the release. Several groups, including the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, say the story of business tycoon Grey and the young, naive Anastasia Steele is not a romantic fairy tale but a glorification of violence against women.

“If you remove the glitz, the glamor, the attractive cast, the soundtrack, the suits, it’s really just a story, bare bones, about sexual and domestic violence,” said Amanda Smith, communications director for the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group.

“The mainstreaming of the book and the movie is sending the message to women that they can fix violent and controlling men just by being obedient and loving enough.”

“Fifty Shades of Grey,” published in 2011, is the first book in a trilogy that features explicit scenes of sexual practices involving bondage, dominance, submission and sadism/masochism. The book has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.

Jennifer Frazee-Whitcomb, a married para-educator from Wichita who read the series, said she has heard about protests and boycotts of the book and upcoming movie. While some parts of the book were “a little shocking,” she said, she enjoyed reading it and plans to see the movie.

“For me, it’s just a book. It’s fiction,” said Frazee-Whitcomb, 34. “Maybe it is some people’s reality, but for me it was the story of their relationship and sort of fixing each other, I guess. That’s what it was about to me – the relationship and the romance.”

Lorenz, 53, agreed.

“You have to take it for what it is,” she said. “To me, it’s just one of those silly, goofy pleasures. It’s like TLC (programs). Those shows are a train wreck, but you watch them anyway.”

Opponents have started social-media movements in advance of the film. Using the hashtags #50ShadesIsAbuse and #50DollarsNot50Shades on Twitter and elsewhere, some protesters are calling for viewers to boycott the movie and donate the money they would have spent on tickets, popcorn and a baby sitter to help victims of domestic violence.

“Instead of promoting this film that’s really glamorizing, legitimizing sexual and domestic violence, we want people to instead donate to women’s shelters in their local community,” Smith said.

“We’ve seen a huge jump” in tweets supporting the movement, she said. “It’s really catching on, and we’re excited about that.”

Some fans of the book said they aren’t sure what kinds of crowds to expect opening weekend. But it likely will be a mix of date-night couples and large groups of boisterous women, reminiscent of ones who flocked to “Magic Mike” two years ago.

Lorenz, who belongs to a local women’s group called the Adventurous Babes Society, said the “Fifty Shades” premiere is just another opportunity to get together with friends and have fun. Some of the 24 women attending the show with the group have read the book and some haven’t, she said.

“I looked at the calendar and realized that’s Friday the 13th, so that’s kind of fitting to get our freak on,” she joked.

“There will probably be some parts that are kind of cringe-worthy, but I just think you have to look at it in that way, that it is just a movie and it is fiction,” she said. “People are fascinated with the whole idea of the story – being swept off your feet and taken away from your mundane existence.

“Not that we all have a mundane existence, but certainly more mundane than Christian Grey.”

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