The recreation of "Ghostbusters" with a cast of female leads was supposed to signify feminist progress. It looked to me more like a vapid (and money-losing) gesture than a worthwhile endeavor. Gender meant little to the original film, so why exploit its framework this way, if not as a cynical ploy to make a superficial signal of progressive virtue (mission accomplished) and make some money (no such luck)?
On Wednesday, it was announced that an older story is set to receive the gender-swap treatment -- this time William Golding's classic novel, "Lord of the Flies," which has already twice been adapted for the big screen since its publication in 1954.
Unlike "Ghostbusters," gender meant a great deal to "Lord of the Flies," which focuses on a group of young boys who wind up stranded on an island and rapidly devolve into savages. Golding, by his own account, said his decision to write the book about boys and not girls was deliberate, because "a group of little boys are more like scaled down society than a group of little girls will be." Masculinity also plays an important role in the book.
You may groan at what looks like another meaningless gesture intended only to make progressives feel good about themselves. And feminists, for their part, did not applaud the news, instead expressing annoyance that the film is set to be written by two men.
But conservatives should consider that gender-swap experiments in stories can and might make for interesting work in some contexts. Sure, they can be obnoxious in the wrong hands, but they can also illuminate the notion that men and women are different, a reality that is often denied by the same people who applauded "Ghostbusters."
Placed in the same scenario, men and women might well behave differently. There is nothing inherently wrong with exploring that, so long as those explorations treat sexual differences as more than mere artificial social constructions. If laudable male and female characters were not different in consequential ways, then the swapping of a cast's gender would have little effect on its plot. (To some extent, this contributed to "Ghostbusters" failure.)
With "Lord of the Flies," swapping genders could potentially pervert the message of a treasured literary masterpiece. That appears to be upsetting readers on all points of the ideological spectrum, including feminists who see the book as an important statement on "toxic masculinity." (It's not quite the same as swapping the genders in a lighthearted movie along the lines of "Runaway Bride," which I actually think could be kind of amusing.)
Speaking on the project to Deadline, writer Scott McGehee explained, "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," he continued, "the ways we think of boys and aggression."
Enigmatic as that is, McGehee seems to be implying the film will challenge conventional perceptions of gender in a way that could complement what feminists believe to be the original book's statement on "toxic masculinity." That could be annoying, but we don't know.
"Lord of the Flies" means a lot to a lot of people. It's understandable that some see the act of appropriating it to suit a new agenda as a threat the book's legacy. That may turn out to be what happens and it may be the most likely scenario as it stands right now. But keep an open mind until we actually have something to judge.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.