Finding the “Black” in the Grey Area: 50 Shades of Black Review

Before I issue my review let me say that I have never been a fan of The Wayans family. While they are a black family where each member is a star in their own right, it seems this stardom occurs at the expense of integrity- a common exchange amongst black entertainers. With this in mind I silently rejoiced in what seemed to be a parody of best seller turned blockbuster 50 shades of Grey. Although fans rejoiced, I was insulted from two standpoints. As a semi literary scholar the writing is unremarkable and the story is unoriginal. Thus, in content and composition 50 shades of Grey asserts the power of white supremacy. EL James as a white Woman who writes the story of two white people in love need not possess talent,  or seemingly a feminist attitude in perpetuating white male supremacy to what appears to be a largely white and female audience. Thus, when I saw Wayan’s work to find blackness in this “grey” area I hoped for some wit regarding the consistently overlooked issue of diversity in Hollywood. Sadly, my ambitions were sadly misplaced as Wayans, like EL James in 50 Shades of Grey, perpetuates white male supremacy in his portrayal of the emasculated yet stereotypical “Christian Black.”

Criminal and Man-Whore

Before the movie  ceases its entrance music, viewers see Wayans as Christian Black steal purses and a car, performing in the stereotype that blacks steal to acquire money and material goods. While these acts are undoubtedly performed for humor, enforcing stereotypes of a continually oppressed race is not and will never be funny.

Cultural Appropriating Friend

I do commend Wayans for including a cultural appropriator aka the “down” white friend Kateesha who eerily  resembles actress Rebel Wilson. From her colorful weave, twerking and masterful use of ebonics, Kateesha embodies white appropriation of stereotypical blackness. Wayans looses these points when Kateesha uses the n-word to refer to a black male. To add insult to in jury, in rendering this epithet Kateesha sexually excites Black’s brother Eli. The use of the n-word as an aphrodisiac oversimplifies an ongoing discussion within the black community (the use of the n-word) to the point of sheer ignorance.

Blacks and Communication

One of the downfalls of the film was the comedic relief sought in making fun of stereotypical black communication. In the film Wayans’ summarizes “white” communication as long- winded containing “big words” and black communication as encompassing phrases like  “what you not gon’ do,” concluding with both parties talking behind one an other’s back. Given how society projects blacks as bad communicators and generally inarticulate this joke lacked the wit needed to challenge rather than reinforce stereotypes.

The Non Well-Endowed Lead

Immediately upon hearing of a “black” Christian Grey the portrayal of a hyper sexualized male seemed ominous. However, Wayan’s takes an interesting take on this controlling image by portraying Christian black as sexually accomplished but  lacking in the phallic area. However, his testicles are of normal and even large in size. While overtly demeaning to the myth of the well endowed black man, Wayans portrayal actually corresponds to the theory of the late Dr. Frances Cress Wesling. In The Color Confrontation theory Wesling asserts color as the catalyst for black oppression. More specifically, Wesling asserts that black mistreatment stems from white anxiety in their inability to produce color. This anxiety she states is the reason for white obsession and hyper-sexualizing of the black male genitalia. Wesling asserts the anxiety as misplaced onto the male sexual organ as the testicles were the source of color production. Thus, in portraying the black male lead as possessing an abnormally small sexual organ, Wayans indirectly asserts the black male as possessing the most desired sexual tools—testicles that contain the gene of color.

Racist White Savior

Wayans stayed true to the book in portraying the lead as an adopted son of a wealthy family. In Wayan’s version, the mother (played by Jane Seymour) prides herself on adopting children of all races. In the dinner scene viewers watch as Seymour mistakes her Korean daughter for Chinese, and provides kool aid and fried chicken to accommodate her African American son. In reducing her ethnic children to stereotypes this depiction casts a critical gaze on interracial adoption. The film also features a scene in which Mrs. Black walks in on Black and Steele and Steele’s bare busom is exposed. Upon seeing Hannah’s naked breast, Mrs. Black states how she was expecting the “droopiness of apes.” In commodifying the black female body, Mrs. Black’s words operate in a way similar to the white scientist who made a similar contrast between Saartje Baartman’s animal-like body and the physique of white women.

Non-submissive Black Women

One thing the film gets right is committing the black woman from a submissive role. The world swooned when dominant Christian Gret swept Anastasia Steele off her quivering feet. Continually portrayed as dominating to the point of difficultly, the black woman is inevitably excluded from rescue. The black woman is also seemingly excluded from BDSM, as depicted in the film. 50 Shades of black features Christian Black showcasing his Red room of BDSM equipment to white and asian women who unquestioningly agree to his antics. The black woman he brings to the Red Room is immediately turned off and needless to say does not take part in the activities. A similar persona is conveyed in Hannah Steele as she assumes the dominant position and whips Christian Black for the all the women oppressed on the big screen. She renders her list between licks, thise list consisted of Lupita N’yongo and Dakota Johnson for their submissive roles. In what I am sure intended to be somewhat of an empowering moment, the black female protagonists renders a feminist initiative in including all women in a struggle unique to black women. Yes, all women face oppression in a white patriarchal society but black women uniquely endure racial and sexual oppression allowing us a dual struggle for visibility and respect.

The compartmentalizing of black women as “woman” falsely assumes that both black and white women endure a similar struggle. Thus, in striving to empower women Wayans silently asserts a post racial initiate which dissolves the purpose of the film while simultaneously insulting the perils of black women.

Interestingly, I correlate 50 Shades of Black to the recent fiasco with the Oscars. 50 Shades of Grey, like Titanic demonstrate high grossing movies that completely omit the presence of black people. Thus, film like 50 Shades of Black work to grant blacks a piece of a homogenous pie, cast off as the film’s comedic counterpart. 50 Shades of Grey succeeds by capitalizing on white female fantasy and 50 shades of black emerges due to black need for visibility and inclusion. So despite being over a century post slavery, we as a culture still have our work cut out for us.It is often forgotten that it was our desire for inclusion that deteriorated the black economy.  Nevertheless, it is the continued need for inclusion that costs us our ability to see that inclusion is yet another illusion designed to entrap us as a community.

3 Comments Add yours

  1. I have not seen the film yet. But thank you for this wonderful review.

    1. C. C. Saunders says:

      As always, thanks for your support 🙂

      1. You’re very welcome.

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