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Fifty Shades Danker: A Queer Feminist Reading of Anastasia Steele

By Entertainment, Featured

Illustration by Sacha Lusk

Some might say, “Not all films can be ‘Moonlight.’” This is an accurate statement, but it is not one worth debating for very long while watching the opening scenes of “Fifty Shades Darker.” I have buckled down with very little hope and not nearly enough alcohol to try and suss out as much substance as I can from the latest “Fifty Shades” — the second in the franchise. From the outset, the film is off to a rocky start with some horrific child abuse.

Upon completion, the film does not give credence to this opening, which is disappointing but not unexpected. The only shock here is that Anastasia Steele manages to become the most mediocre feminist icon possible. After a dismal two hours, it can be concluded that she’s no Emma Watson, but she might be better than Casey Affleck. All Anastasia really needs to do is dump that creeper Christian Grey for his much hotter sister Mia, because the two clearly have chemistry. Rita Ora’s ability to act might almost make up for the whole movie.

Truly, Anastasia’s character is so flat and poorly defined that anyone could put any spin they wanted to on it. Anastasia is clearly a metaphor for the attempted rise of pseudo-feminists against an ill-defined patriarchy. (I may be the only one who thinks this, but hey, I’m the one writing the review.) Anastasia, as a mediocre feminist icon, fails to attack the issue of male-driven society at its source and instead chooses to (kind of) manipulate a single creep into thinking he might the dominant one in a relationship. I’m going to give credit where credit is certainly not due and say that writer E. L. James may have been onto something in this portrayal of modern-day womanhood.

The first time we see Anastasia, she’s receiving a giant bouquet of white roses from Christian. She tries to throw them away, but can’t because she only owns a tiny, lady trashcan. The subtext here is that women can’t produce trash. Anastasia’s inability to throw away the white roses might also suggest that she can’t throw away her virginity, but I may be going too far. She also may have been taking a second look at the roses, and contemplating their meaning. It is completely unclear what this scene means.

Anastasia then goes to some unexplained art gallery. Surprise: There’s at least a dozen giant naked photos of her on display.

It’s like someone hacked her Tinder, and decided to make it an exhibit. Apparently, Anastasia has multiple creepy men to deal with — the photographer is her friend, Jose.

This bums me out.  I wanted to be #TeamJose and make t-shirts. Jose admits to never having asked permission for the photos. Then he asks Anastasia out on a date. It’s a smooth move. I always try to impress women with my disregard for consent before I ask them out. Anastasia doesn’t turn him down immediately, though. Her hesitation is a superficially problematic, but potentially masterful move. She does, however, stand him up to go on a date with Christian, her true foil. Christian saves the day and buys all the photos, which is even worse than Jose selling them.

There’s a very confusing sub-plot with Anastasia’s boss, Jack. Somehow, he manages to produce the most cringe-worthy male gaze I have ever witnessed, on screen or otherwise. He then tries to force himself on Anastasia, because she’s apparently the most irresistible woman alive. Christian saves the day, again, but really Ana is the one that fucks Jack up, and Christian just happens to be there.

There’s a weird ghost / vampire girl that shows up every once in a while for the first half of the movie. She turns out to be one of Christian’s “exes” or “subs” or whatever the hell terminology this movie chooses.

Unfortunately, this character is way less interesting than the vampire, BDSM, Illuminati I was hoping she’d be. Christian “saves the day” again, by getting the ghost / vampire to not shoot Ana, but Ana disobeys Christian and runs away. Ideally, she’d go find Mia, her true love. In the movie’s reality, she just leaves and walks around in the rain while some sappy song plays.

The movie proceeds in obvious ways, Anastasia and Christian yell at each other to communicate. Anastasia tells Christian she wants to move slowly, but then immediately has sex with him. Her panties match her bra, so she’s clearly full of shit.

This somehow makes it much easier for me to decide that Anastasia represents pseudo-feminism. She knows exactly how to manipulate Christian. All she has to do is act like she needs him, and maybe say yes once or twice, and she holds all the power. The only step she fails to make is to turn the tables on him and leave him for Mia. They pick out a great tie together, so clearly it’s meant to be. #TeamMia. T-shirts available on Etsy.

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