William Golding’s dystopian novel Lord of the Flies will soon become the latest addition to the all-female-cast-remake genre, joining Ghostbusters and Ocean’s Eleven. The directors, Scott McGehee and David Siegel, say the forthcoming remake will help people see the story, originally about a group of schoolboys stranded on an island, from a new angle. “It is a great adventure story, real entertainment, but it has a lot of meaning embedded in it as well, McGehee said about the novel.
It does have a lot of meaning embedded in it. But, as Twitter users pointed out after the news broke recently, McGehee and Siegel seem to have missed that point entirely. The very demographic — social progressives — Warner Brothers presumably hoped to attract with the deal have panned the idea, the first all-female reboot they haven’t widely praised. Why has Flies not earned the standard praise for promoting female empowerment and breakthroughs in an otherwise male-dominated field?
To begin with, remember that author William Golding’s original intent with the book was to showcase the widespread inhumanity he observed while fighting in World War II. Even when society restarts, he says through Flies, hostility and selfishness remain.
As for the reason he selected a cast of all boys, he explained:
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.#… 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 civilization, of society.
The directors don’t seem to understand Flies at all. The book already demonstrates the problems with a society dominated by males, and, by its inverse and Golding’s own words, how much better a woman-led society would be in important ways. What additional social commentary could they hope to pull out of the story?
The Flies remake helps show how based in optics, not message, these gender-focused remakes are. The Bechdel test, which Kyle Smith has criticized a great deal in NRO, proposes that a movie isn’t truly pro-woman unless two named women are alone on screen together, talking about something other than men. It’s a good example of the kind of image-over-message philosophy progressives have pushed in new media. If you walk the walk — and literally talk the talk — your movie is okay, regardless of how empowering it really is.
Flies will surely pass the Bechdel test, but it probably won’t send a very empowering message. This raises the question: Why don’t Hollywood progressives just create stories with pro-woman messages or re-tell existing ones? Hidden Figures, which tells the story of three women instrumental in the launch of John Glenn into orbit, is a far more empowering movie than Ghostbusters, as would a movie about Millie Dresselhaus — the red blazer-wearing scientist from the GE commercials — empower women more than the all-woman remake of Ocean’s Eleven. Of course, it isn’t enough to tell existing stories about strong and interesting women. That’s not what the audience wants, apparently. It’s why Joy and Big Eyes flopped. It’s why Hidden Figures’s success is so unique.
What progressive moviegoers want to see is the glass ceiling breaking. They don’t care about what happens once it’s been broken. They want to see something rebellious.
But will a Flies remake be rebellious? Consider the possible tacks the Flies directors might take. First, they could change only the genders of the characters, leaving the plot intact. If you don’t remember the book, the society the boys creates quickly collapses, their focus on survival being overtaken and destroyed by pettiness and competition. Having women undergo the same fate would sacrifice any hope the directors might have of making the movie pro-women. It would be perceived as insensitive and untruthful. The directors, after all, are men.
If the Flies remake is to be celebrated as empowering for women, the directors can take the second tack, which is to have the characters succeed. By overcoming the problems of the male-dominated story, they will demonstrate the superiority of women. They will shatter sexist gender roles and chauvinistic predictions that they will fail. But the directors can’t go this route either, because Golding already took it by implication. In portraying women as the heroes where men have failed, the directors will be doing something wholly unoriginal, and wholly un-rebellious. And the progressive viewers don’t want to see that.
Which is why the recreation of Flies is so appallingly off-mark. The people angry at McGehee and Siegel aren’t angry at their lack of literary knowledge or for dishonoring Golding’s legacy. They’re angry that a remake is being wasted on glass that’s already been broken.