A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Fifty Shades of Black is a parody of Fifty Shades of Grey starring, co-written, and produced by Marlon Wayans. It makes fun of the Fifty Shades movie, book, and main characters, but it manages to contain less nudity (although you will see one breast and two full-frontal scenes of men's clearly fake genitalia). On the other hand, there's lots more swearing (including countless uses of "f--k," the "N" word, "motherf--ker," etc.) and vulgar references to sex and race (one character is openly racist toward her adopted children). Although the scenes are played for laughs, they do still contain BDSM, with the whips on display named after slavery-themed films like Roots, Glory, 12 Years a Slave, etc. There's also substance use and abuse by adults: The main female character gets drunk, and someone tries to spike her drink with Molly; the main male character recalls becoming a billionaire because he used to use and sell crack cocaine.
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What's the story?
FIFTY SHADES OF BLACK is exactly what it sounds like -- a parody of Fifty Shades of Grey from the perspective of comedian Marlon Wayans and his production team. Following the same premise as the original, the spoof follows inexperienced college student Hannah Steale (Kali Hawk), who does her sick roommate a favor and interviews self-made billionaire Christian Black (Wayans) or a journalism assignment. During the interview, it's clear that Christian's attracted to Hannah -- and, like in the movie it's parodying, he basically keeps tabs on her until she agrees to see him. Soon it becomes clear that Christian isn't interested in a regular romantic relationship; he wants Hannah to sign a huge sex contract agreeing to be his submissive in a dominant-submissive relationship.
Is it any good?
Effective parodies never lose sight of the object they're parodying, which is why this mess of a crass comedy fails in its mission. It's all over the place, making fun of the source material one moment and then needlessly poking fun at racial politics, Magic Mike, and women's bodies (like Hannah's smelly panties or her promiscuous caricature of a roommate's sexually transmitted disease) the next. One of the few laugh-out-loud moments is when Florence Henderson makes an appearance in a flashback as the woman who introduced Christian to BDSM. In a bit taken straight out of Whiplash, she demands that Christian respond to whether he or she is "rushing or dragging" during sex. She then chides Christian for not living up to his potential (and also not adhering to sexual stereotypes about black men).
As a parody, there are a couple of funny moments (like when Hannah's BDSM punishment includes a read-aloud of Fifty Shades of Grey), but most of the movie just devolves into lowbrow shtick after shtick. For example, Jane Seymour and Fred Willard pop up as Christian's adopted parents, who are not-so-secretly racist (Mrs. Black checks for her wallet every time she and Christian hug goodbye, and she believes her husband has a secret thing for their Asian daughter, just like Woody Allen). It's cringe-worthy and awful -- but then again, so was the original.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Fifty Shades of Black's depiction of sex. Does the humor lighten the content/mood? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
Why do you think the Fifty Shades of Grey series is so popular? Is this parody of it appropriate for teens?
What makes a movie a good parody? What are some of the best film parodies? How does this one compare?
The movie has been accused of making fun of women's bodies, but you could also argue that it mocks men's bodies. Is either situation a good example for teen viewers? What message does that send about body image?
- In theaters: January 29, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: April 19, 2016
- Cast: Marlon Wayans, Kali Hawk, Affion Crockett
- Director: Michael Tiddes
- Studio: Open Road Films
- Genre: Comedy
- Run time: 93 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: strong crude sexual content including some graphic nudity, and for language throughout