The story, a Polish production based on an erotic Polish-language trilogy, is “controversial” according to a description on Netflix, and there’s little debate around that. But the movie’s arrival last month on the platform has been polarizing. “365 Days” has been slammed by sexual assault survivors including singer Duffy, who said in an open letter to Netflix CEO and co-founder Reed Hastings that the film “glamorizes the brutal reality of sex trafficking, kidnapping and rape.” It has also been the subject of crass TikTok memes centered on the film’s explicit sex scenes and extraordinarily attractive leads.
Here’s everything to know about “365 Days” and the controversy surrounding it.
“365 Days” begins with a rooftop business meeting that quickly turns harrowing: A mafia boss and his son are shot after refusing to participate in a sex trafficking operation involving underage girls. As the son loses consciousness, he thinks of the woman he spotted just minutes before on the beach below. Fast forward five years, and we learn that the son, Massimo (Michele Morrone), survived and has taken over as head of the family business, but he’s more focused on tracking down the woman he saw on the beach that day.
Enter Laura (Anna-Maria Sieklucka), a sales exec who coincidentally arrives in Sicily for vacation with her boring bald boyfriend at the same time Massimo is being driven past the airport. A few obligatory scenes later, she ditches the boyfriend and is cornered by a pair of men while looking for her hotel. She wakes up in Massimo’s villa, completely unaware of where she is. When she finally tracks down her captor (after stumbling upon a gigantic portrait of her face on the wall), she faints.
Massimo responds by sensually pressing an ice cube against her lips. “Suck it,” he tells her. “You had a bad reaction to the sedative.” When Laura angrily stands up, he becomes agitated, shoving her into a chair so she doesn’t “faint again.” “Sit … down,” he tells her, using harsher language. “Do you want to know why you’re here or not?” Massimo confesses that it was the memory of her face that helped him survive his gunshot wound. “Somewhere inside me, I had this feeling of certainty that one day you would stand in front of me and be mine,” Massimo tells Laura. “You must be kidding,” Laura says. “Nobody owns me, I’m not an object. You can’t have me just like that; kidnap me and think that I’m all yours.”
“I know,” he says. “But that’s why I’m giving you a chance to love me.”
“365 Days,” directed by Barbara Bialowas and Tomasz Mandes, has drawn comparisons to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the best-selling erotic romance trilogy that became a popular film franchise. Blanka Lipinska, who wrote the “365 Dni” book series and co-wrote the movie screenplay, has acknowledged similarities between her books and the box-office juggernaut, which faced its own fair share of controversy. But for all of the criticism levied at “Fifty Shades,” the first film deals with consent in a very pointed — albeit much-debated — way: The protagonist goes over a contract detailing the conditions of their dominant-submissive relationship.
In “365 Days,” there is little to indicate that Massimo and Laura are embarking on a consensual sexual experience of any kind. The red flags, however, are plentiful. An early scene finds Massimo receiving oral sex from a private plane stewardess he propositions with nothing more than a whispered entreaty and his smoldering glare. After having Laura kidnapped, he refuses to let her leave. He repeatedly touches her without her consent — including one instance in which she is tied up on his plane — and in another horrifying scene, he uses a leg-spreading bar on her before forcing her to watch him in a sexual encounter with another woman.
When the two eventually have sex, it is — we are made to believe — consensual, and initiated by Laura in a scene so wild it has spurred its own hashtag. But many of the film’s critics have slammed the movie’s failure to address consent, with some noting that Laura’s eventual embrace of Massimo resembles Stockholm syndrome.
“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,” she said.
The singer also made an appeal to those who have watched the film: “I encourage the millions who have enjoyed the movie to reflect on the reality of kidnapping and trafficking, of force and sexual exploitation, and of an experience that is the polar opposite of the glossy fantasy depicted in ‘365 Days.’ ”
There has also been backlash to the film on TikTok, where a “ ‘365 Days’ challenge” has prompted some users to pass bruises off as the result of rough sex and to express interest in being kidnapped by Morrone. (One TikTok user told the New York Times she didn’t see “anything problematic with the relationship of Massimo and Laura other than the fact that he kidnapped her and planned to keep her kidnapped for 365 days.”)
Mik Zazon, a body positivity activist with more than 710,000 followers on the video-sharing app, created a Change.org petition urging Netflix to pull the film. As of this writing, it has more than 69,000 signatures. There are other petitions on the site making similar requests. “Watching abusive behavior be romanticized in pop culture makes it more real and accepted as romantic when it happens in real life,” Zazon wrote in an Instagram post linking to her petition.
Not surprisingly, many critics have stayed far away from “365 Days,” but there are enough reviews to yield the movie a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes — and comparisons to Tommy Wiseau’s widely panned 2003 film, “The Room.” The site features scathing review snippets including from Pajiba, which warns, “It’s the kind of movie you fast forward to get to all the good parts, only to realize that there are no good parts.” Variety dubbed it “thoroughly terrible, politically objectionable, occasionally hilarious.”
But … it’s popular?
Netflix does not publicly share viewership information for its titles, but “365 Days” was for weeks in its top-10 list. The film, which saw a lucrative theatrical release in Poland and a few other countries earlier this year, has been a boon for Morrone, who told the Times he had been working as a gardener and close to giving up on his acting dreams when the producers of “365 Days” came calling. TMZ reports that the actor recently signed a six-figure modeling deal with Guess. Rolling Stone reported that several artists (including Morrone) featured on the film’s soundtrack landed on the magazine’s chart for breakthrough artists.
What does Netflix say?
Netflix declined to comment for this story. But the Guardian recently quoted an unnamed spokesperson who noted that the film was merely licensed — and not produced — by Netflix. “We believe strongly in giving our members around the world more choice and control over their Netflix viewing experience,” the rep was quoted as saying.
Netflix has responded to some criticism of its titles, most notably adding content warnings and removing a controversial scene from its adaptation of “13 Reasons Why.” The company also received flack for “Baby” — an Italian drama based on a real-life underage prostitution ring — which some viewers accused of glamorizing the sexual exploitation of teenagers. Both of those productions were Netflix originals ostensibly intended for younger audiences.
But this isn’t the first time the company has run into trouble because of its licensed content: “What the Health,” a documentary espousing the benefits of a vegan diet, recently came under fire for exaggerated and misleading claims.
It’s unclear whether the backlash will lead Netflix to make any significant changes to the way “365 Days” is presented on the platform. But one small tweak appears to have been made already. During its first week on Netflix, the site’s description of the film read: “She feels suffocated in her new relationship. But will she breathe new passion into her life while held captive by another man?”
It is now more straightforward: “A woman falls victim to a dominant mafia boss, who imprisons her and gives her one year to fall in love with him.”