No one expected Fifty Shades Freed to be feminist. The franchise is built on a distorted view of BDSM relationships that somehow simultaneously waters them down and complicates them, all while making BDSM an excuse for bad behavior outside of the bedroom. The main hunk, Christian "Fifty Shades of Excuses" Grey is, in a word, an ass. And our heroine, Ana, gets by on empty puffs of happiness and good sex, with literally zero understanding about her own life, surroundings, and sometimes, even her own feelings. Can't you just feel the love (see: vacuous dearth of empowerment and agency) now?
And yet. From the moment its trailer dropped, Fifty Shades Freed seemed determined to show it had learned from past criticisms. At one point, Ana answers Christian's question about what he should do about her "defying" him with a coy, "Learn to live with it." At another, she "defiantly" says she's going to work late instead of coming home at 5 p.m. (I'd gasp, but it's no longer the '60s). These moments are coupled with a movie trailer staple: an uplifting swell of bombastic music with the hint of a female vocalist, for an extra dash of girl power. There's also the film's tagline, "Mrs. Grey Will See You Now," which positions Ana as the master of this final Fifty Shades journey. All in all, the film itself really seems to buy into this new, empowered Ana.
Unfortunately, she isn't so much empowered and feminist as she is a flimsy character fumbling around in the dark, hoping that by swatting at the air and moving around, she'll just bump into an empowered storyline. Well, allow me to turn on the light for you, Fifty Shades. These are the parts that the movie seems to hold up as empowering in this final chapter (and spoiler: they're not).
1. When Ana Expertly Drives Christian's Fancy Sports Car
The scene is pretty simple: Ana wants to drive Christian's sexy, dangerous sports car. Control freak Christian refuses to let her drive. Now, in a normal rom-com scene, this might amount to playful banter akin to fighting over the last French fry on a diner plate. But given the context that Christian literally won't allow Ana to do anything that might be a risk and that he doesn't seem to want her to have a fun moment that doesn't involve him giving her an orgasm, it's pretty clearly some patriarchal BS.
What's worse though, is that he eventually allows her to drive the car because she "earned" it by telling the sexy lady architect hitting on Christian to back away from her man. Then, when they're immediately pursued by a Bad Guy on a winding country road seconds later, Christian allows Ana to take evasive action so they don't get, you know, murdered. And in a moment that should finally, after all this restriction, be the one moment Ana gets to be an autonomous human being who makes decisions and feels fulfilled by them (also known as the human condition), Christian is sitting next to her telling her every move to make like a humanoid GPS who's seen The Italian Job one too many times.
So sure, Ana gets to be a badass driver... with training wheels... that her husband only allowed her use because she got in a sparring match with another woman over his affections. Ah yes, such feminism.
2. Ana's "Learn To Live With It" Line
This moment felt so potentially powerful in the trailer. For half a second, I thought this movie might even act like it'd been through a Women's Studies class just once. And then, the film delivered the scene's total undoing: context.
The supposedly defiant line comes after an exhausting conversation. While Christian and Ana are lounging on the beach in the South of France where toplessness is pretty much expected, he demands that Ana keep her top on. When she takes it off anyway, he lectures her because it might look bad for him in the press if a paparazzo were to snap a picture of Ana's breasts. And sure, being in a tabloid is probably not most people's idea of a good time, but Christian, buddy. It's her body. Her breasts. Her cross to bear if she ends up in a magazine.
Christian's mad, they go back to the boat to hook up, Christian asks what he should do when Ana defies him, and she finally says the line: "Learn to live with it." Only, it's not some defiant, powerful moment where she's telling this baby man to grow the hell up (she does that later, while wearing lingerie and boots). It's a taunting quip meant to be foreplay. His response? He's gluing that bikini top on her next time they go to the beach.
Look. I'm all for playful pre-coital conversation and I didn't forget about the concept of sub/dom relations. But. Ana seems to be playing the mischievous subordinate in her real life outside the bedroom — you know, the place where she should have some free will. And Christian doesn't seem to be playing a game at all, which makes the whole thing kind of gross.
3. Ana's New High-Powered Business Woman Attitude
Another trailer line that should have been better than it actually was, is when Ana finds herself at work — at a job where she got a magical promotion while she was on vacation, that's totally not related to her husband being her boss' boss' boss at all (which only the murdery villains in the film seem to pick up on or have any issue with) — and she defiantly tells Christian she won't be home by 5 p.m. She's bucking a mid-20th century expectation that hasn't been the norm since the '80s. How thrilling.
This moment comes after Christian interrupts a business meeting because he's jealous of Ana's colleague and whines because she uses her maiden name at work. Once he says he'd take her name if she wanted (he does not do this), they agree to have a conversation about her going by Grey. But the chat never happens, and a few scenes later, Ana is introducing herself as Mrs. Grey. Look, women should take whatever name they want to take post-marriage, but the fact that Ana comes into the conversation adamant that she's going to keep her own name, only to completely give up once Christian is upset, sends a message that she's only willing to stand her ground when her control freak husband isn't in the room. It's not great.
4. Ana Defiantly Going Out To Drinks With A Friend
Christian fears for her safety, so he forbids Ana from doing anything else besides going to and from work. She decides for one brief moment that she is a grown ass woman who can handle her own self, tells her bodyguard as much, and goes out to drinks with her pal Kate.
She then spends the whole time saying she's not allowed to have one more drink, and then goes home sulking and wracked with guilt, peering around corners for Christian's stern gaze like a teenager afraid of her parents because she stayed out past curfew. Not only is this drinks move not feminist, it's barely even adult.
5. Ana's Retort To Christian When He Gets Mad That Sex Made Her Pregnant
Ana & Christian spend approximately 75 percent of this movie having sex without condoms. So go figure, that one of those consensual sex romps between two young, fertile people results in pregnancy. Yes, Ana misses her appointment for her tri-yearly birth control shot, but even if she didn't, birth control is only 99 percent effective (we all took high school health class, OK?).
When Ana says she's pregnant, Christian's response is not that he loves her and they'll figure it out. It's not that he's frustrated, but that's life. He literally blames her for biology being a thing. So naturally, this is our girl's moment to shine — to show that all those baby-half-empowered moments were stepping stones to the real moment, when she finally stood her ground and told Christian to stop treating her like a child-bride. But when she manages to get in a weak jab about babies coming from the ever-present sex they're having and he leaves in a huff, she's got that same guilty expression from her night out with Kate. Christian has control over body, and when he loses it, he's straight up awful. For the most part, Ana just kinds of... takes it. This was a perfect opportunity to really let him have it. But that would just be too much, I suppose.
6. Ana's Amount Of Nudity Compared To Christian's
In all of these films, Ana is bare-chested or fully nude nearly every time these two get sexy. Christian, however, inexplicably keeps his pants on in almost every sex scene. He's literally always. wearing. pants.
And Freed attempts to correct this imbalance. Kind of. Of the three Fifty Shades flicks, the third did at least attempt to level the playing field a bit more: We see Christian's hip bone area a bit more, he has a shower scene and his rear end makes an appearance, and there's one moment in which the film shows us Christian's happy trail in excruciating detail (uh, pretty sure that's not the equal nudity we were asking for, but OK). Unfortunately, that tilt only tipped a few degrees, leaving Ana's body as the one being objectified 75 percent of the time instead of the usual 80.
And look, it's a sexy movie. There's going to be a lot of nudity. But even actor Dakota Johnson has pointed out the discrepancy in Freed, telling ET, "I mean, there is a lot more of my body that's shown than Jamie's actually."
Come on, Fifty Shades.
7. Ana. Just Ana.
The entire premise of Ana's character throughout these movies is that she's not like other girls. She won't just be another sub in Christian's lineup. She wants and demands more. Stereotypical and inherently problematic phrasing aside, that defiance is what is so charming to Christian. But. While the movie tries to paint Ana's behavior as empowering, that message is dashed as soon as we're reminded that Christian only finds this stuff charming as long as it's flirtatious defiance, aka the kind of banter that is basically just a precursor to him getting it on in that infamous red room.
So no, Ana's "defiant" manner is not feminism, or empowerment. It's just flimsy, old-school foreplay. And when you think about it that way, it's not even that hot anymore.