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Why we’re all a bit skeptical about female Lord of the Flies

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Deadline recently announced that a new version of Lord of the Flies is being made. The big twist: it will have girls instead of boys.

I’m usually excited by movie adaptations of books, even though I think they rarely live up to expectations. And the idea of girls being stranded on an island and struggling to survive isn’t actually a bad premise, but I – like a lot of fellow readers – am not sure this particular remake will work well.

Many tweets I saw said that girls stranded on an island wouldn’t revert to being savage to one another. They would work together and no one would die. I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but there is a reason Golding chose boys.

Anyone who read Lord of the Flies in high school knows that it’s literally about toxic masculinity. The society the boys form on the island favours those that fit traditional heteronormative male ideals. Piggy – who doesn’t fit those standards because he is overweight and hindered by health and vision issues – isn’t respected leading to his death. Simon – who is physically frail and displays the traditional feminine characteristic of actually caring about the “littluns” – also meets an untimely end. There are lots of rapey descriptions of the hunter boys killing pigs. All in all, the critique of patriarchal society and male violence isn’t all that subtle.

A female LotF then kind of misses the point of the novel, then. They can certainly still make this movie into some sort of social allegory. (Cruelty isn’t unique to boys.) And they could even work in critique of internalized misogyny. But I’m skeptical that that’ll happen, especially since I’ve yet to hear of any women attached to the project.

When asked why boys, Golding responded “I was once a little boy … I have never been a sister, or a mother, or a grandmother.” While this kind of argument has definitely been used as a cop out for creatives not including diversity in their work, it also speaks to the importance of Own Voices. While Scott McGehee and David Siegel may do a fine job, I’d definitely feel more comfortable with some women in the room.

But wait, what about female Ghostbusters and lady lead Oceans Eleven?

Like I said, I’m usually for female casts. But this one is different. See, there’s a reason women and girls wanted female Ghostbusters, Jedi, Con artists, and super heroes. Characters like Wonder Women are empowering. They give us something we don’t get to see as much as we see male heroes. (By now, we’ve all saw the photos of young girls dressed as Rey or staring in awe at Gal Gadot, right?) We want nuanced female characters who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves and others, who are unabashedly badass, who aren’t dependent on the men around them.

While a female LotF would probably (I hope) pass the Bechdel Test, it doesn’t seem likely to give us the positive female characters that other female re-castings have. Nor does it seem likely to start good conversations about female relationships. As Jezebel writer Julianne Escobedo Shepherd puts it, the stereotypes of girls and aggression “can be summoned by invoking a single evocative word: catfight.” I would hope this movie will have the nuance to combat such ideas, but the track record isn’t great.

Another point that some have made is that women don’t need a story like LotF. Women survive savagery every day. We already know that society basically sucks.

Book Twitter of course came up with another reason we don’t need this female LotF: It already exists in Libba Bray’s Beauty Queen.

Now, I haven’t read Beauty Queens (I might now – I hear good things), but if Hollywood wants a modern adaptation of a classic, why not choose the one that already exists and celebrate a woman writer in doing so?

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