'Fifty Shades' message not all black and white
SPOILER ALERT: This story contains spoilers about the Fifty Shades of Grey film and trilogy.
It's a best-selling trilogy and a blockbuster hit. It's also stirring up quite a bit of controversy with practitioners, women's rights activists and sexual abuse counselors alike.
Fifty Shades of Grey, grossing an estimated domestic total of $130,148,000 as of Feb. 22, according to Box Office Mojo, had the No. 1 opening weekend in February, bringing in about $85 million. But that success didn't stop activists from coming out against the trilogy. Some social media accounts, such as @50shadesabuse, have been especially vocal about the alleged domestic abuse in the trilogy, specifically the actions on the part of Christian Grey in his courtship and resulting relationship with Anastasia Steele.
After meeting by chance and having a few encounters with each other, Steele learns that her new crush is into some kinky stuff; and in fact, he's had many past conquests whom he's let into his toy-filled sex life.
The two eventually start sleeping together. Grey does have one stipulation though. Before exposing his partners to the BDSM lifestyle, he requires them to sign a contract. However, after lusting after Steele and somewhat developing feelings for her, he ignores the contract she never signed. And so their foray into the hot and steamy world of erotic sex begins.
Reluctant to take Steele out on dates, Grey isn't hesitant to bound the young student with restraints, blindfold her and whip her with a flogger and riding crop. Curious as to why the billionaire is so aroused by BDSM practices, Steele asks Grey to do his worst to her. So he violently whips her several times, and although it gives him pleasure, she begins to cry. She wonders how he could derive pleasure from bringing her so much pain, and decides to leave him.
Members from the UCF campus and the Orlando area gave their two cents on the trilogy, these allegations of abuse and whether or not it accurately depicts the BDSM lifestyle.
Stacy Nale-Stadom, a specialist in student counseling for Counseling and Psychological Services at UCF, recognized that the books and film portray stalking-like behavior, but also attempt to show the lifestyle in a positive light.
"It does put into mainstream culture BDSM as a sexual practice or a lifestyle," Nale-Stadom said.
She also noted, however, that Steele's emotional state was concerning.
"In the book, Anastasia Steele is very tearful most of the time. She cries a lot and that's because she is under emotional stress and duress. She is not emotionally happy in the book or the movie. She was doing it to be please someone else," Nale-Stadom said. "Anastasia Steele entered into the relationship because she was attempting to please someone else, which gave Christian all the power."
Local BDSM community leaders also noted positives and negatives that existed within the trilogy.
"The way we're looking at it, from a business point of view, we're happy and we're scared. We're happy people are getting exposed and they'll start Googling around and hopefully find us," said Master Cecil, co-owner of The Woodshed, a local BDSM dungeon. "We're scared people will go and say 'I can do that,' and go home and harm someone. And then, of course, that puts my lifestyle on the 6 o'clock news, and of course it'll be in a negative connotation."
Cecil specifically praised the use of safe words . However, he found Steele's introduction to the lifestyle "rather severe" and drastic.
"Where he did tell her, 'This is who I am,' well that kind of gives her the heads up; but where he acted like he was this way because of abuse was absolutely incorrect," Cecil said.
For those legitimately interested in the community and the lifestyle, Cecil has one main recommendation.
"Get out among the community, the community at large is kind of expecting the Fifty Shades people," Cecil said. "We actually had two couples show up the night the movie premiered [on Feb. 14] after the movie."
And while Nale-Stadom and Cecil admitted that the trilogy had its benefits and its downsides, others in the Greater Orlando community have found the trilogy nearly wholeheartedly positive.
At Farvilla Megastore on Orange Blossom Trail, fetish items went from its No. 4 best seller to No. 2, and Debra Peterson, director of purchasing at Fairvilla, said it's because women feel liberated by the trilogy.
"It has been a little bit, believe it or not, empowering for women to talk more about their fantasies; not just that, but they're opening up about sexual health and wellness in general," Peterson said. "It started a dialogue, not just about these types of fantasies and role play, but taking a little more control over the sexual well being."
Adam Rhodes is the Entertainment Editor at the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @byadamrhodes or email him at AdamR@CentralFloridaFuture.com.