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Why there's a fly in the ointment over Hollywood's view of women


Jodie Whittaker

Jodie Whittaker

Jodie Whittaker

When news broke that Jodie Whittaker would be the 13th actor to play Doctor Who, many fans of the show were up in arms that their beloved Doctor would be changing genders. Likewise with the news in 2015 that Paul Feig would be directing an all-female cast for the remake of Ghostbusters.

There have been murmurs of a female James Bond for some time now; if and when the time comes there will certainly be fans ready to voice their displeasure. Predictably, the sentiment of most of these protests is that women just aren't up to the job. They claim that changing the gender of these much-loved characters is simply pandering to the wants and needs of Lefty feminist film buffs.

Which brings us to Hollywood's latest gender-bending adaptation. The news Warner Bros is developing a Lord of the Flies revamp with an all-female cast was savaged across social media. Unlike the backlash against other female-led remakes, the majority of opposition didn't come from diehard William Golding fans; rather, the majority of opposition came from Lefty feminists themselves. Example Tweet from writer and author of Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay: "An all women Lord of the Flies makes no sense because ... the plot of that book wouldn't happen with all women."

The general consensus from the internet is that both Warner Bros and the film's writers and directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel have missed the point of the story. The fact two men have been chosen to write about the female experience has also irked people, despite their promise "to do a very faithful but contemporised adaptation".

People like Gay think the storyline, in which a group of schoolboys, deserted on an island, descend into savagery and murder, relies on typically masculine characteristics to be plausible. My memory is a little fuzzy here, but from studying the book at age 15 my understanding was that this was a commentary on the darkest aspects of human nature - not boyhood. It would appear, however, that I am wrong.

Golding himself spoke about the reasons why he purposely chose to write about a group of boys, not girls, or both, saying "if you land with a group of little boys, they are more like scaled-down society than a group of little girls".

The fiery debate around gender bias in Hollywood tends to flare up with announcements like this. With ongoing efforts to address gender parity in Hollywood, Warner Bros might think they are doing one for the ladies here. But it is simply a lazy solution to an ongoing problem. Women also deserve to have their stories told, not to be shoehorned into a "contemporised" role that simply replaces the ''he'' with a ''she''. Lord of the Flies has already been adapted for film twice - first in 1963 and again in 1990 - so surely there is no need for yet another twist on this cautionary tale.

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Yet, this is typical Hollywood decision-making. The film business relies on tried and true plotlines to make money and so Hollywood blockbusters always involve a good guy overcoming the bad, while the gorgeous woman inevitably falls for the guy in big budget rom-coms.

An all-female Lord of the Flies is a far sounder business decision than a film about, say, a group of girls rebelling against the Taliban by attending school.

We do not need any more female-led remakes. What we need are original, compelling tales that accurately reflect the female existence rather than stereotypical portrayals of womanhood written, directed and cast by men.

Surely the worst offender in film is the horror genre. Somewhere there must be a handbook on how to write a Hollywood horror, consisting of three bullet points: Find hot blonde. Kill hot blonde in particularly gory manner. Repeat.

But fear not (literally), feminist film buffs. There is hope on the horizon with the announcement that Drew Barrymore and her production company Flower Films are behind a one-hour horror anthology series written and directed by women. According to entertainment industry publication Deadline Hollywood, the new series promises to produce horror "via vignettes about guilt, jealousy, repression, paranoia, insanity, sexual obsession and survival through a modern and distinctly feminine lens".

Sounds like there will be some pretty complex roles in there for female actors, writers and directors. Here's hoping Hollywood will realise there's nothing so scary about that.

  • Frances Burscough returns next week

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