Following E.L. James announcement yesterday that Dakota Johnson and Charlie Hunnam would be engaging in some steamy sex in the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey, outraged fans have started a petition to get rid of them, revealing a particularly nasty strain of fan culture.
Not being dedicated fans of Fifty Shades, we were surprised by the outrage. Johnson and Hunnam don't come with a lot of baggage. Johnson, who will play Anastasia Steele, is probably best known for a very brief role in The Social Network and the very short-lived Fox series Ben & Kate. Hunnam, who before his turn as the bondage-loving Christian Grey was best known as a Sons of Anarchy regular, is only just beginning his road to movie star fame.
Alas, some fans are pissed. A petition on Change.org demanded that Johnson and Hunnam be replaced with Alexis Bledel (of Gilmore Girls) and Matt Bomer (of White Collar). As of this afternoon 9,000 people have signed the petition. "All readers believe Matt is Christian. It would be a dream to see him in the movie," the petition reads. (The demand for change makes no mention of the fact that Bledel who at 31 seems a little old to play the 21-year-old Anastasia. Gilmore Girls ended six years ago; Johnson is 23)
The Internet has emboldened fans to believe that they can cast a film better than professionals. And while "all readers" may believe that Bomer should play Christian Grey, the petitioner(s) don't stop to consider that perhaps the character's creator didn't even want that. If we are to believe the ramblings of Bret Easton Ellis on Twitter, Bomer wasn't a consideration: "Talked to E.L. James at a party over the summer: her first choice for Christian was Rob Pattinson and Matt Bomer was never in the running."
Of course, these petitions are nothing new. As Matt Singer points out at The Dissolve, one of multiple petitions to remove Ben Affleck in his role as Batman in the Man of Steel sequel now has upwards of 90,000 supporters. Unlike some campaigns that have helped save television shows like Friday Night Lights from early deaths, the Fifty Shades and Batman campaigns are born out of negativity. Only, Singer argues that don't have their intended effect. "All they really prove is the passion of a fan base, one that’s also hungry for product," Singer writes. "If you’re crazy enough about a movie to sign a petition over who plays a critical role, odds are you’re passionate enough to go see the finished product no matter who gets cast in it."
That's true for the most part, but there is reason to be worried when fans go astray. Last month Rebecca Ford explained in The Hollywood Reporter that "insiders" credit the failure of the adaptation of beloved Y.A. novel Beautiful Creatures, out earlier this year, to the fact that the movie "was significantly different from the book, which alienated the series' extremely rabid fanbase. Some fan sites even told people to boycott the film."
Fifty Shades is a very different beast than Beautiful Creatures, with a big hype machine already in the works, but fan ire is something with which to be reckoned with these days, a catalyst for a negative headline at every turn. Producer Dana Brunetti, at least, is striking back as The Hollywood Reporter pointed out. He tweeted: "There is a lot that goes into casting that isn't just looks. Talent, availability, their desire to do it, chemistry with other actor, etc."