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When Mik Zazon, an Instagram influencer who focuses on body positivity, sat down to watch the film “365 Days” on Netflix, she had already seen a few horny TikTok tributes to the movie’s male lead. Since the movie was now trending, she figured why not watch it?
Netflix’s description seemed to promise a suspenseful thriller: “A woman falls victim to a dominant mafia boss, who imprisons her and gives her one year to fall in love with him.” But what Zazon saw instead was a film that tried to sell itself as a love story — between a violent kidnapper and his victim.
“It’s not love. It’s sexual assault. It’s abuse, multiple forms of abuse,” said Zazon, who launched a petition urging Netflix to remove the film, which now has more than 68,000 signatures. “When you put a movie out like that, it is glamorizing, it is romanticizing — it is teaching young men that women want to do whatever they want. It’s teaching young women that’s what they’re supposed to do, to just want to do what men want to do.”
Adapted from a series of successful novels often compared to “50 Shades of Grey,” “365 Days” — or “365 DNI” — was well-received when it premiered in Poland in February. But since the film’s arrival on Netflix in June, its popularity has exploded worldwide. Despite being panned by critics, the movie has bounced in and out of the Top 10 rankings in the United States, Britain, Brazil, India, and more.
“It’s not love. It’s sexual assault. It’s abuse, multiple forms of abuse.”
It’s also a sensation on TikTok, where people joke about trying to get themselves kidnapped in Italy and post memes answering the mafia boss’ catchphrase, “Are you lost, baby girl?” (Sometimes they respond with an enthusiastic “Yes, daddy!”) Many have also shared their wide-eyed reactions to the film’s “yacht scene,” where the pair have vigorous sex in multiple positions.
But the film has its detractors, like Zazon, who say it glamorizes sexual violence, sex trafficking, and intimate partner violence. Other petitions similar to hers have popped up on Change.org, while the singer Duffy, who recently revealed that she’d been kidnapped and raped, sent a letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings about the movie and its real-world implications.
The decision to stream the movie, Duffy said, was “irresponsible,” according to Deadline.
“When I was trafficked and raped, I was lucky to come away with my life, but far too many have not been so lucky. And now I have to witness these tragedies, and my tragedy, eroticized and demeaned,” she wrote. “To anyone who may exclaim ‘It is just a movie’, it is not ‘just’ when it has great influence to distort a subject which is widely undiscussed, such as sex trafficking and kidnapping, by making the subject erotic.”
Netflix didn’t respond to VICE News’ request for comment about the demands to remove the movie from its platform. It also doesn’t typically release viewership data. The company that distributed and co-produced “365 Days” also didn’t reply to a request for comment.
The film tells the story of Italian mobster Massimo, who kidnaps a Polish woman named Laura because he’s spent years having visions of her. Massimo tells Laura that he’ll keep her captive for 365 days to convince her to fall in love with him. If she doesn’t love him back by then, he’ll free her.
Spoiler: After several extremely long, extremely explicit sex scenes — including multiple scenes where Laura’s consent is questionable at best — Laura does fall in love with Massimo. The movie ends with Laura pregnant and preparing to marry the man who kidnapped her. (The visions that led Massimo to do so are never explained.)
Pamela Mejia, head of research at the Berkeley Media Studies Group, worries that the behavior of fictional characters like Massimo can reverberate onto the real young people who may idolize him or his relationship with Laura.
“When you see this kind of behavior and these kinds of [actions] normalized — not only normalized but held up as the romantic ideal,” she said, “that can be very, very harmful and potentially really affect what you then are willing to accept or able to see as normal or good or healthy or loving behavior.” The message is “that is what your relationship should look like if it is [a] grand romance, if it is truly epic and life-changing.”
Throughout the film, Massimo is sexually aggressive toward Laura and other women. In the film’s first sex scene, Massimo roughly forces a flight attendant into a blow job. She’s working on his private plane, so she is presumably his employee. There’s no sign that this woman, who’s never named, consents. But she does smile slyly afterward — apparently to indicate that she was totally cool with what just happened, and that it’s super sexy when your boss demands that you perform oral sex on him.
During Massimo and Laura’s first meeting, he promises her, “I won’t do anything without your permission.” That pledge is a bit undermined, however, by the fact that he’s simultaneously groping her breast. In the universe of “365 Days,” only penetrative sex seems to require consent. Laura ultimately gives that consent on the infamous yacht, although the wildly uneven power dynamic between the two characters throws her ability to truly consent into question.
Zazon pointed out that young people in much of the United States have very little access to comprehensive sex ed, while domestic violence remains prevalent across the country. One in four American women, as well as one in nine American men, experience physical violence, sexual violence, or stalking involving an intimate partner, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
"We’re not really taught what healthy love is; we’re just taught to stay away from sex. And that is not helping anybody," Zazon said, adding, "We have a person running our country right now that has said just grab her by the P-word. It’s very apparent that we have a serious issue going on."
Mejia traced the popularity of “365 Days” back to other wildly popular films that fed — and continue to feed — a culture that romanticizes abusive relationships. “Twilight” implied that stalking was proof of a timeless love affair. The narrative of “50 Shades of Grey” was concerned with consent, given its extended focus on whether the two lovers would agree to a consensual contract. But the film still ended up depicting a relationship where the female partner gave in to the man’s sexual whims to the point that his preferences became hers.
The story of Laura and Massimo, Mejia said, “takes that to its next logical step, where, well, in that case, she has to be simply told what it is that she needs and restrained, or her life changed in some way, until she accepts that that’s what she wants.”
The National Domestic Violence Hotline takes calls 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), or 1-800-799-7233 for TTY. If you cannot speak safely, you can log onto thehotline.org or text LOVEIS to 22522.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Pamela Mejia's name. The text has been updated.
Cover: Michele Morrone attends the "Bar Giuseppe" red carpet during the 14th Rome Film Festival on October 18, 2019 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Stefania D'Alessandro/Getty Images)