What’s the Problem With the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Casting?
Snuck in over the holiday weekend was one of the more anticipated casting announcements of the year, and its strategic placement did nothing to stem the inevitable controversy. We recently witnessed the power of displeased fans when Ben Affleck was chosen as the new Batman but, with Fifty Shades of Grey’s Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, it was a whole different matter. Charlie Hunnam and Dakota Johnson have been chosen to portray the characters, beating out countless fan suggestions.
Since internet fandom really came into its own with Twitter and Tumblr, there’s been a sense that projects based on existing stories, such as book adaptations or remakes, somehow belong to the fanbase more than they do to the author or filmmakers. They may have a point – Fifty Shades of Grey would be nowhere without the mass of people who read E.L. James’ trilogy – but it seems that the biggest and truest backlashes come from a sense of frustration that, however much they love the story, they have zero power when it comes to casting choices.
I have been at the center of fandoms like this in the past, and can see the issue they might have with Hunnam and Johnson. As many people know, the books were based off of fanfiction itself based on Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books, making Anastasia and Christian altered and adapted versions of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. Obviously, these versions of the characters are more R-rated, less undead and far less sparkly, but many of the casting rumours seemed to be based around the visual idea of Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. It might have been a bit too meta to cast them, but plenty of actors have the same qualities.
Ian Somerhalder, Lucy Hale, Emma Watson and Matt Bomer seemed to be favorites, and we can all agree that the final choices bear little resemblance to any of those actors. Is this a fundamentally bad thing that will ruin the movies for fans and newcomers alike? Probably not, but readers of the books are having a hard time visualizing the pair in the shoes of characters they’ve gotten to know. For me, however, the problems with the film will have more to do with the explicit content and paper-thin story than with the cast, since Hunnam and Johnson are talented even if they have the wrong look.
It seems strange that the filmmakers would want to deliberately alienate their fanbase right out of the gate, so we have to assume that the two actors have something really special. Did we really want to see Damon from The Vampire Diaries in an S&M relationship with one of the Pretty Little Liars? I sure didn’t, and casting actors with more wisdom around the eyes, while not necessarily true to their descriptions in the book, may have had more to do with taste.
In any case, they’re designed as blank slates onto which the reader can transplant their own self, rather than complex characters in themselves. As such, it’s obvious that there would have been a backlash whoever had been chosen, and such a knee-jerk reaction has proven time and time again to be unfounded. For now, fans should probably retreat to their books and wait at least for a trailer or a photo, before writing the movie off entirely.