Earlier today, I posted the news that the upcoming adaptation of E.L. James’ novel Fifty Shades Of Gray has a cast: Dakota Johnson and Charlie Hunnam as the much-sex-having Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey. A few minutes ago, I found this article on The Hollywood Reporter: “Outraged Fifty Shades Fans Petition For New Stars.” Sure enough, the piece links to a petition on Change.org called “We want Matt Bomer and Alexis Bledel as Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele.”
“All readers believe Matt is Christian. It would be a dream to see him in the movie,” the petitioner insists. Despite the fact that this campaign is addressed to no one in particular and demands Bomer play the “protaginist” of Fifty Shades, it has, as of this writing, received more than 7,500 signatures.
This Fifty Shades petition follows closely on the heels of a Change.org petition with 90,000 signatures from people who want the new Batman, Ben Affleck, removed from his role in the upcoming Man Of Steel sequel, and a Change.org petition with 2,500 signatures from people who want the new Batman, Ben Affleck, removed from his role in the upcoming Man Of Steel sequel, and a Change.org petition with 850 signatures from people who want the new Batman, Ben Affleck, removed from his role in the upcoming Man Of Steel sequel, and a Change.org petition with 500 signatures from people who want the new Batman, Ben Affleck, removed from his role in the upcoming Man Of Steel sequel. It also follows closely on the heels of the T-shirt equivalent of a petition from RedBubble.com that invites you to wear your Affleck disgust (or, if you’re feeling more open-minded, your Affleck fandom) on your chest (seen above). At this point, I think it’s time to acknowledge that these casting petitions have gotten way out of hand.
Petitions hold an important place within our democracy, and they can certainly be useful in the world of popular culture. In recent years, online campaigns have saved some very worthy television shows, including the low-rated but much-beloved TV version of Friday Night Lights, which was rescued from cancellation after fans made their voices heard. CBS gave its short-lived series Jericho a second season due in large part to an Internet-organized stunt that shipped tons of peanuts (don’t ask) to the network’s headquarters. Even if short-term efforts don’t always pan out, fans’ passion can sometimes yield surprising dividends: Arrested Development lovers never got the fourth season they desperately wanted—until, seven years later, Netflix picked up the moribund series for 15 new episodes.
Still, these sorts of campaigns share a common trait that all the casting petitions lack: positivity. The work of FNL, Jericho, and AD fans made it clear that there was an established audience out there that was craving more content and willing to pay for it. That’s what speaks to the decision makers in Hollywood: money.
It might appear that these negatively slanted casting campaigns do the opposite. They threaten studios with smaller grosses, thus providing a financial incentive to reconsider their casting choices. Ironically, though, they may actually have the opposite effect. All they really prove is the passion of a fan base, one that’s also hungry for product. 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.
Change.org is a very useful site and it’s done a lot of good in the world. But it also makes it extremely easy to start a petition about just about anything, like protesting the casting of an two-time Academy Award-winning actor in the role of a man who dresses like a Bat, or complaining about two very attractive young people in a movie about two very attractive young people having a lot of sex. You could even make a petition calling for an end to other petitions about movie casting. Which is what I just did. Feel free to sign it if you like. Something tells me it won’t do much good either.