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Can We Please Make Movies out of Better Fanfiction Than After and Fifty Shades?

Fanfiction culture seriously deserves better.

anna todd after movie

When the trailer for After first dropped on my Twitter timeline, I scrolled past it with minimal interest. A few tweets terming it “Fifty Shades for teens” caught my eye, but not enough to look closer. Then the first tweet popped up revealing that yes, this was based on Harry Styles/OC fanfiction posted on Wattpad, and readers, I started paying attention.

As a huge fic aficionado, I had to see what all the fuss was about.

It turns out that After began life as fanfiction on Wattpad by an author named Anna Todd; Goodreads’ summary of the book proudly boasts, “Now newly revised and expanded, Anna Todd’s After fanfiction racked up 1 billion reads online and captivated readers across the globe. Experience the Internet’s most talked-about book for yourself!”

Just because something is popular on the Internet does not necessarily make it worth a publisher’s—or, indeed, a reader’s—time and effort. Remember the failed Shit My Dad Says TV series? Yeah, I try not to, either.

The book reads like every other cliché love story, with shades of Twilight and, well, Fifty Shades. College student Tessa, with a steady boyfriend and big plans, meets the dangerous Hardin (originally Harry) and immediately falls head over heels for him. The summary details the way he emotionally abuses her throughout the book, but highlights how Tessa can’t help but feel drawn to him anyway, because nothing says romance like toxic men being toxic.

The trailer for the film takes it a step further by implying that, since Hardin is Tessa’s first sexual partner, he has irrevocably changed her, which is just way too much problematic for a post-holiday writeup.

The film is a nasty mess of problematic tropes that can veer into harmful territory for the reputation of the real-life celebrity involved in this work; Styles is rumored to have blocked Todd on Twitter. The last thing anyone needs is another story glamorizing abusive relationships and depicting them as signs of true love. There are plenty of Goodreads reviews absolutely tearing the book apart, so let’s approach it from a new level: It’s not a good look for fic culture.

Fanfiction is not flawless. There is plenty of nasty stuff floating around the community that’s toxic and harmful, but there is also a great deal of good that comes from fic. Across the globe, writers are working on delivering free stories, set in your favorite fictional setting and involving your favorite characters, to you.

Many of them are responding to problems in the official narrative, or correcting a lack of representation. It’s not just erotica, though there is also nothing wrong with those who choose to write smutty one-shots or lengthy romances, either.

The idea of a piece of fanfiction becoming so popular that it becomes a published work or is turned into a movie is bizarre, and not something I would have ever foreseen being part of the conversation before Fifty Shades came along. We’re entering a murky area here where alternate universe stories can now be turned into original works with a few name changes. So now that this has become a more regular occurrence, when can we start picking good fanfic to adapt to the big screen?

Fifty Shades and After both are poorly-told tales of abuse. You’re telling me there’s not a single well-written Finn/Poe coffee shop AU that could be transformed into a film with a couple changes? Or a Marvel college AU that features queer characters?

There are so many different stories to choose from that feature vaguely familiar characters in new settings that aren’t just fantasies of controlling men, that actually contain queer characters in prominent roles and romances, and yet, it seems as though the only fic-to-screen deals are stories that tread familiar, problematic ground.

After looks bad, plain and simple. If you want good fanfiction, it’s far easier to find. Don’t support this kind of narrative, and instead support the writers who are telling the stories you want to read. That’s what fanfiction is really for.

(image: Aviron Pictures)

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Kate (she/her) says sorry a lot for someone who is not sorry about the amount of strongly held opinions she has. Raised on a steady diet of The West Wing and classic film, she is now a cosplayer who will fight you over issues of inclusion in media while also writing coffee shop AU fanfic for her favorite rare pairs.