What Fresh Punishment is This? An Editorial on the All-Female Lord of the Flies Adaptation

Warner Brothers have just announced that there is to be a fresh adaptation of the 1945 William Golding novel, Lord of the Flies. It might not be your kind of thing, but think of how helpful it will be for all those school kids steadfastly not reading the book. 

Except, this adaptation has gone a bit wrong. Already. Quite wrong. It’s going to feature an ‘all-female cast.’ The two male directors may have missed the point…


lord of the flies.jpg
(Left) Cover art – Faber&Faber. Fair use: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2350876
(Right) Fair use: https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22173259

The two directors, Scot McGehee and David Siegel spoke to Deadline in an exclusive that you can find here.

Commenting on the subject matter, Siegel believes that the book “is aggressively suspenseful, and taking the opportunity to tell it in a way it hasn’t been told before, with girls rather than boys, is that it shifts things in a way that might help people see the story anew. It breaks away from some of the conventions, the ways we think of boys and aggression.”

Now anyone who has a GCSE in English Literature will probably be able to tell you that the defining feature of the violence in Lord of the Flies, is its masculinity. Specifically, the book shows us the repressed violence and toxicity that festers among privileged white boys from wealthy British families.

The book was written largely in response to the popularity of ‘boy’s adventure stories,’ which often revolved around shipwrecks and castaways, in which young boys would travel far and wide getting into dangerous fights and fun scrapes without ever seeming to miss home or the comfort of their parents. By virtue of being intelligent white boys, they can survive and thrive- conquering nature and any ‘savages’ that they might find along the way. It’s all very imperial, very British and very 1940s.

rex features
Credit: Rex Features

 

The commentary on savagery and ‘Englishness’ is a constant throughout the book, as the boys’ new miniature society acts as a microcosm of imperial attitudes and white masculinity. It is surprising to no reader that things go wrong in the way that they do.

When the ‘White Man’s Burden’ collapses and the boys are incapable of maintaining their ‘civilised’ veneer, the contemporary audience is supposed to be left questioning prevalent political and cultural attitudes. A modern audience is cynically unsurprised and disappointed at how dominant these ideas remain.

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A female retelling of Lord of the Flies might have been an interesting thought experiment. There would certainly still be power-plays and struggles, as female friendships can be painful and vicious. Films like Mean Girls or Heathers have demonstrated this admirably. However, in simply retelling a story that hinges around the violence of wealthy, white masculinity, by putting young girls at the centre, it seems to imply a culpability. Co-opting women into a story of masculinity’s failings means that you’re making an unpleasant political statement, or you’ve missed the point of your subject material.

As women call for fairer and more equal representation in Hollywood and contemporary media, this feels like punishment. Almost as if women can be included in the narrative, but only if we occupy the same roles as men in their stories of colonial violence and toxic masculinity.

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