Universal Announces 'Fifty Shades of Grey' Movie Writer; Avoids Mention of Sexual Subject Matter

The 'Fifty Shades of Grey' movie has snagged a writer - but how will she and the studio approach the sexually explicit material in the books?

Fifty Shades of Grey Movie Universal Focus Features

By now you've almost certainly heard about Fifty Shades of Grey, even if you've never read (or even seen) the book. What started as a piece of Twilight Saga fan-fiction has blown up into a worldwide bestselling book trilogy by former UK television executive E L James, which gained popularity in no small part due to the sexually explicit nature of the story.

Well, Hollywood took notice of the literary phenomenon, and Universal Pictures scooped up the movie rights, which the studio plans to capitalize on sooner rather than later. To that end, today brings official word that the Fifty Shades of Grey movie is in production with a script being written by Kelly Marcel, who worked on Fox's Terra Nova before her screenplay for Saving Mr. Banks - an upcoming film about Walt Disney's production of Mary Poppins, starring Tom Hanks - gained notice on Hollywood's Black List of the best unproduced scripts.

If you haven't yet discovered the cause of all the fuss, Fifty Shades of Grey chronicles the romance between a college student named Anastasia Steele (yep, actual character name) and Christian Grey, a 20-something billionaire who has deep-seeded issues. Check out Universal's official synopsis below, and then we'll talk about what the studio is NOT advertising about this film:

Universal Pictures and Focus Features today announced that Kelly Marcel will write the screenplay to the highly anticipated film adaptation of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti will produce the film based on E L James’ #1 Bestselling book, alongside James. The announcement was made by Universal Pictures Co-Chairman, Donna Langley and Focus Features’ Chief Executive Officer, James Schamus.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” has become a global phenomenon and the trilogy has been translated in 45 languages worldwide since its release. In the U.S. alone, the “Fifty Shades” trilogy has sold over 32 million copies in e-book and print, making it one of the fastest selling book series ever.

“Fifty Shades of Grey” follows the relationship of 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey and college student Anastasia Steele. Subsequent novels in the series, “Fifty Shades Darker” (September 2011) and “Fifty Shades Freed” (January 2012) explore the couple’s deepening relationship. For more information please see the official Fifty Shades of Grey Facebook page :

Reading over that last paragraph, it sounds as though this film could be some kind of modern-day-set Keira Knightly romantic drama, except for that one small detail that the press release leaves out: all the dirty sex play that's in the book series.

As mentioned, a lot of Fifty Shades of Grey's notoriety didn't come from its questionable prose style, but rather from the explicit scenes in which Christian introduces straight-laced Anastasia to the world of BDSM (Bondage & Discipline/Dominance & Submission/Sadism & Masochism) - i.e., hardcore sex play. As you can read above, this tantalizing hook is left out of Universal's plot synopsis, and raises question about how the studio will market this movie going forward.

Fifty Shades of Grey Darker Freedom Books

Here's the thing: Fifty Shades of Grey became a hit primarily amongst female 20 - 30 somethings (it's been dubbed "mommy porn") largely because it was written by a woman and broached the issues of sex and sexuality with (supposedly) feminine sensibilities. For example: Christian Grey isn't presented as a sex perv, he's a vulnerable, emotionally stunted young man in need of real love and saving - swoon! Moreover, the books served as an expose of sorts, informing the uninitiated about an extreme niche sub-culture (BDSM) that they had not explored -or were even all that familiar with. If you know someone who read the book(s), only to ask (curiously/excitedly), "People really DO this stuff?" you are not alone in that experience.

This kind of new horizon (explicit as it is) works fine in the intimate privacy of reading, but when putting it onscreen, the line between exploration and voyeurism, art and pornography, becomes much, much, thinner. The books are narrated from inside Anastasia's head, but not many "voice-over sex scenes" come to mind when thinking back on movies I've seen. I say all that to say: in some ways Fifty Shades of Grey the movie could end up being this generation's Basic Instinct, i.e. a pulpy genre flick whose explicit nature elevates it to cultural fixation.

Then again, aside from the actual BDSM activities introduced, James' books are actually rather wooden in their handling of the explicit moments; I would go so far as to say they're even a bit silly, but that's just me. So rather than some hot-under-the-collar psycho-sexual movie experience, Marcel could end up delivering something that is disappointingly tame in its actual representation of the material. Still, Universal is clearly wary of the issue, as this carefully-worded announcement would suggest.

Will they aim the movie at a younger demographic and soften the explicit parts? Or will we be getting the wilder 'for adults' version? It will be interesting to see.

We'll keep you updated on the status of the Fifty Shades of Grey movie as more news comes to light.

Source: Universal Pictures

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