William Golding’s 1954 novel Lord of the Flies is an iconic work of fiction. Taught in schools around the world, it’s a piercing examination of humanity, civilisation, gang mentality and masculinity – and has been turned into a film not once but twice.
Now, two male filmmakers are turning the book into a movie with an all-female cast – and social media has erupted in scorn.
Scott McGehee and David Siegel have signed a deal with Warner Bros to write and direct a new film version of Lord of the Flies, according to Deadline. Their film will differ from the two previous screen adaptations of the book (from 1963 and 1990) in that all of the young students stranded on a desert island will be girls.
“We want to do a very faithful but contemporised adaptation of the book, but our idea was to do it with all girls rather than boys,” Siegel said.
He described Lord of the Flies as “a timeless story that is especially relevant today, with the interpersonal conflicts and bullying, and the idea of children forming a society and replicating the behaviour they saw in grownups before they were marooned”.
McGehee, who has worked with Siegel on films including What Maisie Knew and Bee Season, said that flipping the cast’s gender would allow the story to be told “in a way it hasn’t been told before”.
“It shifts things in a way that might help people see the story anew,” he said. “It breaks away from some of the conventions, the ways we think of boys and aggression.”
However, news of McGehee and Siegel’s remake did not go down well on Twitter, with many users observing that toxic masculinity is one of the principal themes of Lord of the Flies – and questioning whether two male filmmakers should be telling a story about girls descending into savagery.
“An all women remake of Lord of the Flies makes no sense because […] the plot of that book wouldn’t happen with all women,” said Bad Feminist author Roxane Gay.
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
[flies into frame on a broom]— #rachelsyme (@rachsyme) August 30, 2017
the thing about lord of the flies is that it's about systemic male violence + how it replicates
Um, having taught Lord of the Flies a few times, and reading Golding's reasoning behind it... an all-female remake misses the point.— joe. (@unequalized) August 30, 2017
"all-female Lord of the Flies remake" SOUNDS LIKE SOMEONE MISSED THE FUUUUUCKIN POINT OF LORD OF THE FLIES— Gavia Baker-Whitelaw (@Hello_Tailor) August 30, 2017
In recent years, several all-female film remakes have been released or green-lit by film studios. The all-woman Ghostbusters hit cinemas in 2016, while a gender-reversed Ocean’s 8 – starring Rihanna, Cate Blanchett and Sandra Bullock – is slated for release next year. There have also been rumours of Sylvester Stallone directing an all-female Expendables movie, titled – oh, the horror – The Expendabelles.
While some all-female versions may make a feminist point, many on Twitter argued that in this instance, Warner Bros’ budget would be better spent on creating original films about girls rather than trying to force female characters into overtly masculine storylines.
The Lord of the Flies movie feels like a studio had a big jar of "Make with Chicks?" ideas & just picked the one that made the least sense.— Sam (@unegrandefemme) August 31, 2017
imagine having such little interest in seeking out original stories about girlhood by women that you remake LORD OF THE FLIES with girls— JamesHurleyVEVO (@soalexgoes) August 30, 2017
Others pointed out that given the prevalence of high-profile destructive male aggression in the world right now – in Charlottesville, in terrorist attacks, and in the White House – perhaps it might be an appropriate time to ask female filmmakers to tackle the subject of masculinity.
“I mean, Lord of the Flies is about toxic masculinity,” said writer and army veteran Charles Clymer. “Hollywood should just have two women write a major film ABOUT TOXIC MASCULINITY.”
We're literally living an all-male "Lord of the Flies" right now, but sure, let's see two male writers describe how women would be worse.— Charles Clymer🏳️🌈 (@cmclymer) August 31, 2017
Why would you gender reverse Lord of the Flies when there are so many brilliant women-authored stories that explore similarly toxic themes?— Melissa Cox (@Melissa_Maria) August 31, 2017
If you’re wondering what the author of Lord of the Flies would think about his novel being turned into a film about girls, William Golding actually gave his verdict on the subject before his death in 1993.
“Girls say to me, very reasonably, ‘Why isn’t it a bunch of girls? Why did you write this about a bunch of boys?’” he said, in a clip preserved on YouTube. “Well, my reply is I was once a little boy – I have been a brother, a father, I am going to be a grandfather. I have never been a sister, or a mother, or a grandmother. That’s one answer.”
Golding explained that one of his intentions in writing Lord of the Flies was to explore how civilisation works and breaks down. The patriarchal nature of society, even more dominant when Lord of the Flies was written, meant that this would be difficult to achieve with female characters, he said.
“If you, as it were, scaled-down human beings, scaled-down society, if you land with a group of little boys, they are more like a scaled-down version of society than a group of little girls would be.”
Golding continued: “I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men, they are far superior and always have been. But one thing you can’t do with them is take a bunch of them and boil them down, so to speak, into a set of little girls who would then become a kind of image of civilisation, of society.”
On the subject of why Lord of the Flies didn’t feature young boys and girls, Golding said: “We being who we are, sex would have raised its lovely head, and I didn’t want this to be about sex. Sex is too trivial a thing to get in with a story like this, which was about the problem of evil and the problem of how people are to live together in a society, not just as lovers or man and wife.”
Images: Rex Features