BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) – “Fifty Shades of Grey” hasn’t even opened in theaters yet but already it is getting a big thumbs-down from religious and other groups who say it is degrading to women and endorses sexual violence.
One social media campaign is encouraging would-be movie-goers to donate their ticket and popcorn money to women’s shelters, while Roman Catholic bishops are using it as what-not-to-do guide to marriage.
Even as screenings sell out in advance, critics, including the American Family Association and National Center on Sexual Exploitation, are pushing for boycotts, saying they were compelled to speak out because of the attention the movie, with its scenes of bondage and sadomasochism, has attracted.
A Madison, Wisconsin, group planned to picket outside a Thursday premier.
“This is not a healthy thing to mainstream,” American Family Association President Tim Wildmon told The Associated Press by phone. “We’d like to see theater chains refuse to take the movie.”
That is unlikely to happen. The ticket-buying site Fandango has said pre-sales have propelled the movie, which stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, into the company’s all-time Top 5 for R-rated selections, and fans of the book are giddily building the big-screen version into Valentine’s weekend plans.
The movie opens in theaters Friday. It’s based on a best-selling book by E L James about a college student and her torrid affair with a 27-year-old billionaire with a penchant for bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism.
“What’s unique about it is the overall message is that they’re trying to glamorize and romanticize violence against women,” said Amanda Smith, spokeswoman for the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, which launched a website: www.fiftyshadesisabuse.com.
“It’s such a lie,” Smith said, “telling women that they should want to endure this kind of physical abuse and telling them that women want it, and also pushing the lie that if women are obedient and subservient enough, then they can fix a violent and controlling man.”
James, who wrote the erotic trilogy that launched the film, has heard the backlash and says the critics have it all wrong.
“Who is interested, as a woman, in reading about abuse? Why have these books taken off if they are about abuse?” said James, who discussed the film with the AP over the weekend. “Domestic violence, rape, are unacceptable. They are not entertaining in any way. Let me be absolutely clear. Everything that happens in this book is safe and consensual. …. What do I need to do to convince people?”
Thistle Pettersen planned to join picketers outside Marcus Point Cinema in Madison on Thursday during a protest organized by the feminist Radical Alliance of Women. She said the group would carry rainbow-hued signs in contrast to grey and distribute Valentine’s Day cards with information about domestic violence abuse intervention.
“I was really prompted by hearing stories of women who have survived that kind of abuse,” Pettersen, a musician and environmental activist, said.
In a letter to members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Buffalo Bishop Richard Malone said the film provided an opportunity to remind the faithful of the church’s idea of marriage and “the moral reprehensibility of all domestic violence and sexual exploitation.”
“The contrast between the message of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and God’s design for self-giving and self-sacrificing love, marriage and sexual intimacy could not be greater,” Malone wrote in his role as the conference’s chairman of the committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth.
By Wednesday afternoon, a Facebook page promoting “fifty dollars not Fifty Shades,” asking that ticket money go instead to women’s shelters, had more than 9,500 “likes.”
The site was established by the NCSE, formerly Morality in Media, along with Stop Porn Culture and the London Abused Women’s Center of Ontario.