REVIEW: ‘Sex and Sexuality in Modern Screen Remakes’ is a Must-Read for All Critics

Article by Lizzy Garcia /
But Why Tho? /
September 8, 2019 /
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Sex and Sexuality in Modern Screen Remakes is a scholarly analysis written by Dr. Lauren Rosewarne, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and published by Palgrave Macmillan. The book seeks to understand how modern approaches to sex and sexuality are used in film and television remakes as a way to repackage old material for a new audience. The book does this, as Palgrave Macmillan states in its description of the book, through interdisciplinary analyses crossing feminist studies, cultural studies, screen studies, and political economy.

Sex and Sexuality in Modern Screen Remakes is split into three sections. The introduction focuses on providing an overview while chapter two focuses on the trend of sex-swaps in reboots, like Ghostbusters (2016) and Oceans 8 (2018). Finally, chapter three deals with “the use of erotic content and overt displays of sex and sexuality in remaking.” This includes the exploration of the idea of a queer remake as well.

Rosewarne starts off by defining what a remake is.  She clarifies first that screen versions based on other pieces of media are adaptations and the focus of her study is on the productions following productions. Remakes can be considered adaptations; however, they are likely also influenced by the film and works that came before it. By focusing on stories that have already been told, it is easier to see the “new sexual additions (or, occasionally, sexual subtractions).” These “provide insight into political and cultural change and illustrates how sex—in the broadest sense—is frequently used to sell old films to new audiences.”

In addition to looking at “a deluge” of films and TV series, plus reading “a shelf of books about remakes,” Rosewarne also studied hundreds of film reviews. She argues that “reviews play an enormous role in understanding the discourse around a film.” She notes that the large majority of writing about remakes comes from journalistic pieces, such as reviews. As someone who has reviewed films, TV shows, video games, comic books, and movies, I have to wholeheartedly agree. Reviews are a source of information on how remakes are thought and written about as well as showcases how a film was received. While marketing or even filmmakers try to say a movie is not a remake, “their framing as such in reviews both reflects and, potentially, informs, broader audience reception.”

Sex and Sexuality in Modern Screen Remakes is an academic textbook that examines sexuality and sexual politics through the lens of rigorous and peer-reviewed research. It examines sexuality and revisited sexual politics through a purely academic lens. That being said, the subject matter is incredibly important for anyone in media, i.e. anyone reviewing or discussing films in a journalistic setting, whether that be in traditional written reviews or providing YouTube commentary, to understand.

Rosewarne gives multiple examples as to why the remake and reboot culture we live in is hardly new. According to Rosewarne, “remakes have long attempted to make themselves relevant through harnessing what is happening socially, culturally, and politically at the time of production.”

The tropes remakes use to reinvigorate the subject matter, sex swapping cast, adding star-studded names to the cast, and adding a modern look on sex, have been around since the start of film. Additionally, the book reminds us that “filmmaking is a business and, thus, box-office objectives routinely trump politics or social engineering.” Remakes, particularly gender-swapped remakes, are an easy way for filmmakers to attract both women and men who liked the original to the box office. Traditionally, remakes are good for business and not every sex-swap is a product of wanting to make a message so much as it is about capitalizing on profits and modern trends.

Rosewarne brilliantly puts into perspective how remakes’ uses of gender-swapping are often subject to a different type of scrutiny since they can be seen as “being a female spin on a male ‘original.’” Mostly, this is because it is almost impossible not to compare remakes to their original source material. This is partially due to human nature and also due to links made within films’ marketing campaigns capitalizing on that nostalgia.

And while it doesn’t always work perfectly, Rosewarne argues that “By associating a new film with an older (and successful) title, there is likely perceived benefit, with the linkage functioning as a kind of if you liked this film, you’ll most certainly love this one tout to audiences. This is arguably even more pronounced in the context of female-led remakes…” However, sex-swapped remakes are, as stated by Angela Watercutter for Wired, “always measured against the boys who came before.”

Discourse around gender-swapping or race-bending casts is ever-present amongst film critics and scholars. Often, a criticism from film critics and scholars is that in the ongoing fight for more diversity on screen, Hollywood has started giving traditionally white male roles to actors of color or a woman, which feels disingenuous. Having a person of color play a role originally played by a white actor creates the assumption that audiences of color want to see a copy and pasted version of a white character that just happens to look like them on screen. It also furthers the assumption that “white audiences only want performers of color who resemble white performers.”

However, the conversation is fraught to say the least. There are no easy answers since remakes are and have always been one of the easiest ways for Hollywood to cash in. Additionally, “Remakes—notably sex-swaps—can provide star vehicles for women, notably so in a world where men still dominate as protagonists.” Some of her examples include Maleficent (2014), a remake of Sleeping Beauty which was produced by Angelina Jolie and thrust her back into the spotlight, and Steel Magnolias (2012), an all-Black remake of the all-white, all-female 1989 film.

In addition to gender-swapped remakes, Sex and Sexuality in Modern Screen Remakes discusses another trend in remakes, particularly the use of sex. While “sexing up” a remake, having more sexual content than the first film, can add marketing appeal, more and more films are choosing to tone down a lot of sexuality found in the original screening or source material. Furthermore, often, adding sex does not make a better product, as seen in the example of Swept Away (2002).

The remake had more sex but was not well received amongst critics.  Similarly, the 1990 remake of the 1962 film Lolita had more sexually explicit content but because it raised discussions about the sexual abuse of children it was a less sexy remake. That being said, sometimes adding nudity or sex into a remake works, like in the example of I, The Jury (1982) which was much closer to the original novel than the 1953 film.

On the other hand, Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie (2013), a remake of Brian DePalma’s 1976 horror film based on the Stephen King novel, removed the nudity of the original. Yet, the film was poorly received partially because the nudity was “a key component of their viewing experience—the 2013 film appears sanitized in comparison.” At the end of the day, this shows the relationship of adapting female sexuality in remakes is turbulent at best and mostly comes down to how well the added (or subjected) sexuality fits in the source material.

Overall, Sex and Sexuality in Modern Screen Remakes adds to the overall conversation about women in film, by focusing on remakes. The book is not there “to determine the extent to which remakes are feminist, but, rather, to examine films that have been remade with feminist themes and to explore the discourse around them.” It lays out the facts and complicated history, allowing readers to make informed opinions.

If you are a fan of Lindsay Ellis’s video essays or film theory, this is worth the read. While this is an academic work it is still accessible to non-scholarly audiences, Sex and Sexuality in Modern Screen Remakes puts a lot of things in perspective. Most people have short-term memory when it comes to history and academics work to put things into perspective. Remakes and content based around nostalgia have always been around despite how new they feel. The focus on women’s role within remake culture is not something I have previously seen explored to this level.

Sex and Sexuality in Modern Screen Remakes is available online now.

Rating: 8/10