While you are reading these words, over in Hollywood some overworked film exec is wringing their hands and counting the prospective profits of the five gender flipping remakes currently in production. That is, taking traditionally male-lead films and updating the narrative with female characters. 1988’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels? They’re flipping it. 1991’s Billy Murray classic What About Bob? That’s flipping too. Even the men in The Expendables are, well, expendable, instead getting their own slam-crash-pow story as told through the female gaze.
But the one garnering the most buzz? The female-only “very faithful but contemporised” adaptation of Nobel- Prize-winning novel Lord Of The Flies, helmed by writer/ director duo David Siegel and Scott McGehee.
A flipped version of a story originally about a group of marooned pre-adolescent boys whose makeshift democratic society quickly deteriorates into a paranoid tribalist nightmare? Well, you don’t need an A+ in high-school literature to imagine the levels of heavy handed subtext (‘women are their own worst enemies’, in case you were wondering).
It’s easy to be in two minds about the rise of the reboot. At a time when female leads are still scarce, William Golding’s seminal work no doubt yields a goldmine of meaty roles (yes, pun very intended) for talented actors. However, many have written off this form of story cannibalism as laziness and pandering.
Ironically this is a topic on which everyday folk, forward-thinking feminists and even cave-dwelling misogynists can all agree; it IS annoying that La La Land loves gender-swap movies and it DOES feel heavy-handed. However, it’s not part of some some secret Illuminati-led liberal agenda or a patriarchal attempt to hold women’s stories back. It’s simply because Hollywood is an industry that moves with the subtlety of an oil tanker made out of mirror balls.
Studios have entire marketing teams dedicated to watching the waves, then slowly but deliberately assuming a course to suit, reflecting and exploiting the trends of society and carving a wake through our entertainment-hungry consumer dollars in the process.
The all-female reboot is the latest and clearly most profitable trend du jour demonstrating that socially and politically the perspectives of women are front and centre. Possibly thanks to the Hillary Clinton presidential run and the #MeToo movement. Maybe because we all enjoy the female form. Most likely because women make up 52 per cent of the current movie-going audience.
Cynical? Maybe. Terrible? Meh. Art and film, whether it be high-brow or as low on the scale as 2000’s Dude, Where’s My Car, have always been a manifestation of cultural temperature. Yes, even Ashton Kutcher’s early sex comedies were most likely a response to the newly fluid sexual boundaries at the dawn of the new millennium. See? You weren’t wrong in quietly thinking that movie was more than a little gay.
Need proof? Let’s take a walk down the dusty corridors of the cutting-room floor. The year is 1967 and audiences have just witnessed liberal art-gallery owner Christina Drayton fire her assistant for expressing racist views towards her would-be son-in-law Sidney Poitier in Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? Views that, albeit racist, were the societal norm but in a state of swift transition.
It’s no coincidence that the movie was released six months after the US’s anti-miscegenation laws were struck down following the Loving vs Virginia interracial marriage case. Much like cracking a joke in an awkward silence, Stanley Kramer’s film acted as an icebreaker pushing through centuries of frozen racial discourse.
It’s also worth noting that Kramer styling Poitier’s character as the idealistic vision of the “perfect man” — a young, well-mannered doctor that just so happened to be black — was a deliberate decision in order to fight racial stereotypes of the time. The move acted as the crux of the story but also forced audiences to confront their ingrained prejudices, resulting in a film that was at once entertainment, a reflection and a force for good.
In 1993’s courtroom drama Philadelphia, Denzel Washington delivered a final monologue so stirring that it shifted the global conversation around HIV-AIDS and racial stereotyping. The library scene comparing the discrimination towards the HIV-AIDS-affected Tom Hanks with the inequity faced by the black community during segregation remains profoundly affecting.
And on the cusp of the US Supreme Court announcing the legality of same-sex marriage, we all swooned a little during Skyfall (2012), when Daniel Craig as James Bond, a stereotype of ultra-machismo, hints at bisexuality, retorting “What makes you think it’s my first time?” to a lustful caress from the film’s lascivious resident bad guy, Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem).
Most recently Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) used comedy and horror to reflect on the anxieties surrounding the #BlackLivesMatter movement and the systemic racism that the black community faces from the authorities in the US.
Two of the above are Academy Award winners. Prestige movies with a serious message about the zeitgeist. The others? Big box-office hitters that conceal their social commentary beneath a veil of pure action and adventure. What each have in common is their success is based purely on their ability to tell the stories of their era.
Anyone who’s ever indulged in Sandra Bullock’s back catalogue and re-watched 1995’s The Net, a thriller based entirely on the mid-’90s unfamiliarity with the World Wide Web, will know that timeliness and context is paramount when it comes to enjoying a film. Today its vintage net-geek script makes it practically a comedy to the clued-up hyperconnected audiences of now.
But what’s all this got to do with a bunch of women stranded on an island supposedly bitching at each other?
William Golding’s Lord Of The Flies is considered the archetypal analysis of the human condition. It’s a work so filled with obvious themes of nature vs nurture that it’s served up to 15-year-old English students as a means of teaching them the benefits of cooperation, community and conch shells.
With this in mind, the best we can hope for is that this female-led LOTF will represent the peak of the gender-swap trend, taking it to its inevitable “jump the shark” conclusion whereby anything else after will feel stale by comparison. At which point the industry will feel it has atoned for the decades of gender inequality with its years of ham-fisted role-reversals and we can all join hands in peace and sing Kumbaya while a new fad steers the ship in the direction of another of our latest curiosities. We already have whispers of Idris Elba as the first black James Bond…
The likelihood though is nothing will change unless the wider community changes. We don’t get fewer lousy remakes based on gender-flip gimmicks unless we all grow up a little and get over the novelty of it all. Or as William Golding famously wrote, “Maybe there is a beast … maybe it’s only us.”
THIS ARTICLE APPEARED ORIGINALLY IN THE OCTOBER EDITION OF ICON MAGAZINE.
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