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People love to argue about gender- and race-bent movie reboots, both real (Ghostbusters) and imagined (Idris Elba as James Bond). In some instances it’s a great idea, correcting Hollywood’s obsession with white male protagonists. Other times, not so much.
The idea of an all-female Lord of the Flies movie caused Twitter to shit its collective pants last night for a variety of reasons. First, there were the people who think female-led reboots are an affront to masculinity—in other words, the guys who had a public meltdown about Ghostbusters last year. Then there were the people who said an all-female Lord of the Flies was implausible, because women are so cooperative and friendly, they’d just build Paradise Island from Wonder Woman instead of fighting each other.
A female lord of the flies where everything goes fine and they create a society on a secret island wait this is the start of wonder woman— TechnicallyRon (@TechnicallyRon) August 31, 2017
An all women remake of Lord of the Flies makes no sense because... the plot of that book wouldn't happen with all women.— roxane gay (@rgay) August 31, 2017
And then there was the awkward middle ground of people who think this remake is a stupid idea, but for neither of the above reasons. (I’m in this last category, and tweeting about it has turned my mentions into a garbage hellhole. Never tweet, folks!)
There are plenty of great movies about girls being brutally awful to each other, most notably Heathers and Mean Girls. The Hunger Games created a less gender-specific scenario where teenagers were forced to kill each other for survival, but none of these movies actually have much in common with Lord of the Flies. William Golding’s novel has universal themes (hence why so many people have to study it in school), but those themes are rooted in a specific setting.
When the boys in Lord of the Flies get stranded on an isolated island, they don’t just represent some vague statement about how “civilization” breaks down when people are forced to dangerous extremes. The story takes place in the middle of a world war, and those kids have a specific cultural background: mid-20th century English private schools for boys. They’re part of a conservative, hierarchical culture where bullying is routine, and they’re destined to become the ruling class of the decaying British Empire. The book ends with them being rescued by a Navy officer who appears embarrassed by the boys’ savage behavior, but we can guess he came from a similar background to them. Despite the awkward contrast between his civilized appearance and the boys’ chaotic infighting, that officer is participating in a much more destructive war himself.
Basically, an all-female Lord of the Flies makes as much sense as an all-female Fight Club, a story with an explicit message about toxic masculinity. Instead of striking a blow for female representation in Hollywood, there’s a good chance it will just miss the cultural commentary of the original.
The remake’s writer and director want to make a “very faithful but contemporized adaptation,” giving the story a fresh angle by casting girls instead of boys. However, this supposedly progressive choice is hindered somewhat by the writer and director’s own viewpoint. They’re both men, meaning they’ll unavoidably give a male perspective of how girls would behave in a Lord of the Flies scenario.
It would make more sense to make a screen adaptation of Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens, a Lord of the Flies-esque story about beauty pageant contestants in a similar setting. But if you think you can authentically adapt Lord of the Flies while changing the cultural premise of the story, you’ve probably missed the original point.
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested. Follow her on Twitter: @Hello_Tailor