Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice


Some time in the middle of last week, while tooling around the Internet, I came across an interesting tidbit. Lord of the Flies was getting a remake.

William Golding’s classic 1954 novel about schoolboys marooned on a Pacific island had been adapted for the screen three times, most recently in 1990, so I suppose it was due, and with society seemingly in a death spiral, maybe it even seems timely. But here’s the new wrinkle: this time, it will have an all female cast.

Hollywood has gotten fully on board with gender-swapping. In addition to last year’s Lady Ghostbusters and the aforementioned Lady Lord of the Flies, we’re also slated to see Lady Ocean’s Eleven (i.e., Ocean’s Eight), Lady Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Nasty Women), and Lady Splash–yes, Splash. All these films have two things in common: they are remakes or based on previous films, and they are getting the gender-swap treatment.

But what will the girls wear?

Hollywood should be commended for finally realizing that women, who make up slightly more than half the population and have considerable economic power, might actually like to see themselves with leading roles in films that aren’t just romantic comedies. Even after the box office disaster that was Ghostbusters, women are getting more opportunities to carry films. As Kelly Konda noted, “Progress for women in Hollywood apparently means being allowed to fail financially.”  Of course, Wonder Woman’s status as smash hit should help even more.

So, it’s nice to see women getting more starring vehicles. The problem, though, is that we’re apparently seeing remake upon remake upon remake (and in the case of Lord of the Flies, said remake is being written by two men). In a post last week on Writer Unboxed, Jo Eberhardt wondered why we can’t see more original stories with women. Says Eberhardt: “Imagine, if you will, a world in which movie executives actually think female protagonists can be authentic characters in their own right, and not merely gender-swapped versions of popular male characters.” Eberhardt suggests that, rather than a remake, Ghostbusters should have conceived of as a sequel. “…it’s thirty years later, and the ghosts are back. New York needs a new team of paranormal investigators. Somebody call Melissa McCarthy.” What fun! And if the film had been called Ghostbusters III, it might have avoided some of the “They’re killing my childhood” hand-wringing.

Gender-swapping is a tricky business. I have done it twice now, both times after discussion with Agent Carrie. One of the projects was very early, say a dozen pages and a broad concept; the other was further along, though still in extremely rough form. What I found was that gender-swapping was no simple business. It wasn’t just a matter of changing names and pronouns, and maybe throwing in a reference to a skirt or bra. Changing the character from a man to a woman changed everything about that character, which in turn resulted in far-reaching changes in the story. Whether I did it well or not remains to be seen, though none of the rejections on the RiP said anything bad about my female point of view characters.

I’m hoping the two men working on Lord of the Flies will not sink to lazy writing and stereotypes, that they will not merely change names (Ralph to Renata, Jack to Jackie, Piggy to Miss Piggy), pronouns, and costumes–and on that front, let’s hope they also choose not to overly-sexualize with palm frond bikinis; these are supposed to be pre-adolescent kids here. Some have gone so far to suggest that a planeload of girls crash-landing on a Pacific island would never turn into Lord of the Flies, that they would find a way to cooperate and live peacefully and build a utopia. I don’t buy that. In any society, there’s going to be some degree of inequality, and where there’s inequality, there’s strife. The question is, how is it handled? With rocks and clubs and sticks sharpened at both ends, or some other way? A gender-swapped Lord of the Flies presents us with some interesting questions. Let’s hope, if the film gets made, we see those questions explored.

What do you think about the Lord of the Flies remake? Have you ever gender-swapped your characters? How did that work out?

 UPDATE: Not related to this post, exactly, but maybe of interest to some of you: Agent Carrie is looking for entries in her monthly Query Critique. Check here for how to enter! Good luck!

6 Responses

  1. It seems a bit tokenistic to just remake films with female casts, but I guess it's a step in the right direction. Let's hope we see some more original stories with women (but speaking generally, sometimes original stories seem very thin on the ground in Hollywood!)

  2. I've been hearing people (women) say the story would have ended very differently if it had been made of of girls. Will be interesting to see what's done with the story.

  3. Hmmm. Interesting. I'm not a fan of remakes in general so I'm not sure about yet another one. I love the Lord of the Flies book so I hope they do a good job. As you say, the entire story should really change with the gender swap.

  4. -Nick: I think it's all in the writing, don't you?
    -Donna: This argument leads to a larger question: if males and females are theoretically no different, then why would it end differently?
    -Jemi: It will be interesting to see where they go with it.

  5. Oooooh, I secretly loved studying the book in high school. I rolled my eyes a little when you mentioned there was another remake in the remaking, but then you mentioned the gender-swapped cast and my attention is officially caught. I would LOVE to see this, but I must admit that I'm sharing the same concerns you have mentioned about two male writers doing this. Wonder Woman was fantastic, but I would really love to see more authentic female lead characters–and as you said, not just in rom coms!

    I'm sure the upcoming remake will generate plenty of interesting discussion if it goes ahead.

  6. -Bonnee–'secretly'? Why 'secretly'? Then again, it's been a long time since high school and I've almost forgotten how 'The Brains' could be looked down upon. I have given this more thought, and it could be a lot of things: a straight=-up remake with girls instead of boys; a knock-off of The Hunger Games (which you could argue is simply a derivative of LotF); or something with a unique perspective. I'll hope for the last.

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