I didn’t appreciate Fifty Shades of Grey, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, when it was first released in 2015. The only reason I watched it was to laugh at it. Like most women, I was still trying to unlearn decades of misogyny and that things made for women, especially young women, were inherently inferior and should be mocked.
Upon numerous rewatches, I came to realize that Fifty Shades of Grey is a skillfully shot and smartly written film about trust, boundaries, and respect. Fifty Shades of Grey is, at its core, a film that is unapologetically for women. Though it’s often held back by its source material, Taylor-Johnson still manages to make a film that is thoughtful, dark, and feminine.
Fifty Shades of Grey follows Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), a clumsy grad student, who falls for wealthy businessman, Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Ana soon discovers that Christian is interested solely in a BDSM relationship. For the first time, Ana has to decide who she is, what she wants, and if she can still be with Christian when she does.
Taylor-Johnson took a character that, in the books, seemed confused by just about everything, and gave her wit, heart, and agency. The most potent moment in the film comes near the end, when Christian is spanking Ana and she realizes that this isn’t what she wants. When Ana goes to leave, Christian tries to stop her and for the first time, Ana says no. She says, stop. The film ends with Ana asserting herself, valuing her own feelings above Christian’s. Ana finally sets and defends her boundaries.
Taylor-Johnson did not return to direct the last two films in the trilogy. Fifty Shades of Grey remains the most financially successful film in series. For me, Fifty Shades of Grey stands as a testament to what happens when women are allowed to tell their own stories. It reminds me that women shouldn’t be ashamed of their sexuality, their desires, or their personal boundaries. Above all, we should never, ever feel inferior.
Margaret Roarty is a writer and actress, currently living in New York City. When she isn’t working, she can be found nursing a glass of wine and rewatching Scandal for the sixth time.