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Thinkin' About Adaptations

I cross-posted this from tumblr, because Discussions are Important, so... that's why all the pictures. ;)

I remember being still in school, and going to see a movie called Clueless with all my friends. I sat there enjoying myself and then slowly, slowly it started to dawn on me that I KNEW THIS STORY.
SARAH: Guys guys guys! This is Emma! It’s Emma!
SARAH’S FRIENDS: What’s that? Blithering as usual…

I was the only Jane Austen fiend among my friends. But they certainly started to pay attention when I began whispering the plot twists.

They thought I was psychic.

I am a Jane Austen fiend, and I have watched almost all the adaptations I can think of of her books—but Clueless remains, I think, with some fierce competition from the BBC Pride and Prejudice, my favourite Jane Austen adaptation.

Because I am a writer, and because I am a ferocious reader who goes loopy and starts reading cereal packets without regular books, I think about story a lot—and a lot of stories are riffs off ideas, themes, tropes, and sometimes riffs off specific stories. I generally go to see movies adapted from books because I’m curious about what they’re going to do with them. It’s fun to see different imaginations shaping a story.

So I watched both Sherlock Holmes films, and I’ve watched a good bit of Sherlock, too.

I didn’t intend to watch ‘Elementary,’ an American modern version of Sherlock Holmes’s adventures, because I’d heard it described as the American version of Sherlock. No, thanks, said I to myself! I am not American, my books aren’t American, and I don’t see any reason that stories need to be changed just to be American and therefore relatable.

I’m currently at a writing retreat: last year I brought DVDs of a British dark fantasy show called Misfits, and all my Americans loved, loved, loved it. No need to American it up!

But… always a need for a good adaptation.

A rule of good adaptations for me… do something new, do something cool, do something different because you are working in a different space/time/medium/philosophy from the original. Make people have fun and make them think. (Those two goals really should be the goals of all good media, of course…) I mean, one of my long-cherished projects has been to write a modern Pride and Prejudice with a gay storyline.

My new favourite show is an adaptation of a classic story (the Count of Monte Cristo) modern’d up and with a lady lead.

Hello, Revenge.

So yesterday, looking up from my computer where people assumed I was Virtuously Working, I totally blew my cover by announcing ‘LUCY LIU JUST GOT CAST AS DR WATSON!’

The doctor’s in the house.

And instantly, Casa Writing Retreat to a woman and a man, all of whom are writers or artists (Holly and Theo Black, Paolo Bacigalupi, Cristi Jacques, Cassie Clare, Josh Lewis and me) was in.

Because hey, something new and cool! Something that indicated the people making it were thinking of ways to make it their own, and thus more entertaining. Because if we want the same thing over and over, well, nobody has to go to the bother of making a whole show/movie/writing a book.

Amazing ‘rewinding’ and ‘re-reading’ technology has been available for ages.

So I happy-clapped and tweeted my joy, and received… mixed responses. And I was entirely freaking confused by said responses.

1) It will be TOO DIFFERENT from and against the spirit of the original.

Oh, okay. I guess that’s why everybody hates that show Sherlock, where they moved the story a hundred years in the future and solve so many crimes with modern technology…?

2) It will be just like every other show! Cynical grab for cash!

It will be just like every other show with a lady of colour front and centre? Because there are… so many more of those shows than white guys…? There are so many more ladies of colour who are huge box office draws as compared to those poor white guys?

It will be just like every other show with an interracial couple (platonic or otherwise) front and centre?

Is everyone watching TV in Opposites Land? Can someone give me a TV subscription in Opposites Land? I can think of a couple of shows that fit this description, but very, very few.

Besides which, speaking of being like every other show, it’s not like we’re short on bromances. Which brings me to my next point…

3) Le Bromance!

Hey, I am all in. I love a bromance. I wrote a whole trilogy devoted to a bromance! I generally like a bromance which also has a lot of time for the ladies, but… bromance. Sure. In. I love friends, I love family, I love people of whatever gender and in whatever relation to each other having loving complicated relationships!

(Aw, look. Those vampire bros love each other.)

But we have, like, out this very year just gone by, two different Sherlock Holmes franchises separately doing the shimmy and crooning along to ‘Guy Love.’

Nobody is tearing Starsky & Hutch, Supernatural, Sherlock, the Sherlock Holmes movies, House (which is in fact just another version of Sherlock Holmes, and also centers on the bromance of Two White Guys), need I go on, out of anybody’s arms. But a third version of Sherlock ‘I Love You Man’ Holmes in the space of two years sounds a bit like ‘For the Lord’s sake whatever you do, it’s gotta be all about dudes, all the time!’

And it’s not like bromances are doing badly commercially, either.

4) It’s… homophobic to cast Lucy Liu as Watson…

I would like media to be less sexist, less racist, and less homophobic.

Having an Asian lady instead of a white dude as a lead character gives me at least some of that.

Less homophobic, well, I don’t know yet about Elementary, but Holmes and Watson are not portrayed as openly gay in any adaptation I’ve seen. You cannot ‘straighten up’ something that does not contain a gay storyline to begin with! (We don’t even know whether or not they are going to put Lady Doctor Watson and Sherlock in a romantic pairing.)

I am all in for Lady Dr Watson/Sherlock True Love if they do it well, and I am in for just friendship. Romance is awesome. Friendships, also awesome.

I’ve also seen it suggested that Watson had to be cast as a woman because American audiences wouldn’t be comfortable with gay subtext. I think that anyone who has seen the Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey Jr. and watched more than an episode or two of House will agree that American audiences appear to be fine with gay subtext and Sherlock (in fact, see above point regarding bromances). Both the TV show and the movie are wildly popular successes. I think the creators of this show wanted to do a new thing — not had to, but wanted to. And that’s fine.

Gay subtext fine with audiences, who can enjoy it or not notice it… gay text happens less.

I would be all in for gay Sherlock/Watson too! I haven’t at any point got it in a movie or a TV show, but I am all in. I own and have read A STUDY IN LAVENDER, a book of short stories where Arthur Conan Doyle’s characters are gay. (I recommend it highly.)

I would be all in for girl Sherlock and boy Watson. I would be all in for girl Sherlock and girl Watson.

All those things would be great things to do, but this thing they have done is a great thing to do, too. And I am all in for the girl Watson we have, and I think it’s especially cool she’s a lady of colour.

I actually saw pictures of the three Watsons, with a note saying ‘One of these things is not like the other.’

One of these things is not like the others? And a good thing too.

To summarise again my Rule For Adaptation: All things new again. Don’t do the same thing over and over, do something new with the material… and do it well.

A show with a girl Watson automatically being regarded as going to be worse than a show with a boy Watson… is very close to saying that girls are not as good as boys.

Is Elementary going to be good? I don’t know. Maybe not! But something I do know… I’m going to watch it.


( 110 comments — Leave a comment )
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Feb. 28th, 2012 08:59 pm (UTC)
I'm really looking forward to it, I love Sherlock :)

in fact I may just have to watch an episode now
Feb. 28th, 2012 09:01 pm (UTC)
All your points and ALSO LUCY LIU. *__*
Feb. 28th, 2012 09:13 pm (UTC)
Well if she was still going to be Three Continents Watson, invalided home from the war but still a soldier and still a Damn Good Doctor, I would be already 100% behind this... but she's a disgraced surgeon. I think there are somethings you can change without it mattering overmuch (gender) and some things you can't. I wont be watching this unless the reviews show that they aren't a waste of time!
Feb. 28th, 2012 09:23 pm (UTC)
Oh, ew.

I was all enthused about it--and also "screw you, NerdRage Boys" to the haters--but...ew.

I remember this from BSG: the male version is chilling out, being a hotshot Han Solo ripoff with a disregard for authority/wounded ex-soldier who kicks medical ass and occasionally gets snarky about buddy's coke habit/etc, not superhuman or non-flawed but certainly competent and functional and without more Issues than average. Switch genders--awesome in itself--and suddenly the female equivalent has to have a bucketload of psychological trauma, because...

...I don't know, some bullshit about women needing to be vulnerable. Makes me want to kick people.
(no subject) - sockdrawerdemon - Feb. 28th, 2012 09:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Feb. 28th, 2012 09:17 pm (UTC)
I would love it if Lucy Liu remained a ladies...woman :D
Feb. 28th, 2012 10:48 pm (UTC)
So would I. But I won't say 'and if she doesn't, it's ALL OVER' because I am uncomfy with the many reasons people use to dismiss ladies.
(no subject) - the_glow_worm - Feb. 28th, 2012 11:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 28th, 2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
Years ago there was a film called They Might Be Giants with George C. Scott as a mental patient who believed he was Sherlock Holmes and Joanne Woodward as his treating psychiatrist, Dr. Watson. She was trying to break his "delusion" by joining in on the case he was pursuing. It was never completely clear if George C. Scott was a reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes. It wasn't a bad film and was a fun adventure. So a concept of a female Watson and a male Sherlock has been done once before. I will be interested to see how this new reimagining goes.
Feb. 28th, 2012 09:48 pm (UTC)
I'd rather like to see a girl Sherlock and a girl Watson. But a girl Watson sounds pretty cool to be going on with.
Mar. 1st, 2012 02:49 pm (UTC)
Japan's already done it! Gosick, wherein Watson is a Japanese exchange student and Sherlock is tiny Elegant Gothic Lolita.

Sherlock as a tiny prissy schoolgirl is pretty much perfect, by the way.
Feb. 28th, 2012 09:49 pm (UTC)
I agree, her casting has made me (tentatively) excited about Elementary. If it is good, other pros will include a longer season and no wait (or illegal online streaming) for those of us who live in the U.S.

Also, if you ever actually do a modern, gay version of Pride and Prejudice, I will be so very happy.

Edited at 2012-02-28 09:51 pm (UTC)
Feb. 28th, 2012 09:49 pm (UTC)
Excellently well-said. And my interest in Elementary just went waaaaaaay up, because as you said: they've just signaled that this is not going to be them sticking the RDJ films and BBC series in the microwave again (which we really don't need just yet, why hello Yet Another Spider-man Reboot, yawn). They are doing (at least) one different thing, and that gives me hope they're going to do *several* different things, involving ladies and people of color and other such cool topics.

Edited to add: and a female Count of Monte Cristo! MUST GO FIND NOW.

Edited at 2012-02-28 09:50 pm (UTC)
Feb. 28th, 2012 09:51 pm (UTC)
THANK YOU. I've been handclapping with glee and basically breathless with excitement since I heard, and I feel like the internet's response has been really negative, overall, so I'm really happy to see this post. I also think it's specifically interesting considering that Sherlock Holmes has been, since Arthur Conan Doyle, basically a big fandom. So making a Sherlock Holmes story isn't just interacting with the original stories, but with all the iterations that have already happened. Which is brilliant, and a lot of why I love Sherlock Holmes--you don't just get single interpretations of the character, you get a whole variety--kaleidoscopes of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson! Which I find really awesome--intertextuality is cool and exciting, right?

I had my doubts about Elementary since hearing about it, because I too thought it would be "the American Sherlock"--and with two Sherlock adaptations (threee if you count House) currently ongoing, did we really need another one? But the reason to add to a huge, public fandom like Sherlock Holmes is if you have something different to say--and POC Lady!Watson is definitely something different. I mean, can I just say how completely happy it makes me that we’re at a point where we can say “here is a white male character out of classical canon,” and instead of saying “and we have to portray him as a white male character played by a white male actor because this is the way it’s always been done and people wouldn’t recognize the character otherwise”, we can say “and we’re going to reinvent him as a female POC.” That’s awesome! That's saying we can tell and retell familiar stories, and they don't always have to be the (white) boy's show, just because they always have been before. (It's also locating the "truth" of a character--that thing we recognize, that makes us go yeah, Watson!--in something besides gender and race, and in relationships, which is also exciting.)

As far as the homophobic argument goes--cool as it would be to see some homosexual text out of Sherlock Holmes (the subtext in Ritchie's films, particularly the second one, was blatant enough that I ended up feeling cheated, like if they were going to rely on the subtext that heavily it should have just been text), I just don't see how a heterosexual Holmes/Watson would be...an erasure of homosexual interpretations? Like, at all? Because it's not simply a remake. It's in dialogue with all the other interpretations that have happened (and are happening.) If they do get together, I think it's asking a very pointed question to the other texts: is the fact that Watson has always been a man literally the only thing keeping them apart? In some ways I think it opens a lot of doors for the question of a Holmes/Watson romance to become text--in this and in other incarnations.

There are lots of other reasons that I'm wildly excited for Lady!Watson, now--because Sherlock Holmes has always been about the boys, and it's always had a lot of misogyny rippling under (and sometimes above) the surface. How is Irene Adler, for example, different, when she isn't The Woman--when she doesn't eclipse the totality of her sex? How are they going to deal with the twin romantic subtexts that usually underpin Sherlock Holmes--that Sherlock is either gay or that he's asexual?

There's always the possibility that CBS will get it horribly wrong, of course. But I'm definitely looking forward to it, and I get a lot more joy out of being hopeful than cynical. :)

Also I really want to see this Lady!Count of Monte Christo now--I hadn't heard of it, but it sounds amazing. Thank you! :)
Feb. 28th, 2012 11:00 pm (UTC)
I have clearly been remiss in my journaling duties if I have not urged all to watch Revenge. It's all over my tumblr: I looooooove it. Hope you like it too!

And well said about turning the canon away from being an all-boys show.
(no subject) - essie007 - Feb. 29th, 2012 01:47 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 28th, 2012 09:52 pm (UTC)
i think, the only reason i was/will be mad at this adaptation is if they feel that to have a holmes/watson romance, they have to make one of the characters a female. that's just what i'm worried about, because there's this standard that if a male/female potential couple flirts, it's legitimate, that they could (and usually do) end up exploring that romantic possibility. but if i a same sex potential couple flirts, that's it. it's just a 'bro'mance, it's assumed that it won't ever be a real thing. which, as a gay woman, really hurts, that these things are not equal. so - if the reason for them making a female watson is to have a mainstream-acceptable romance.... that's upsetting.

but oh my gosh i have NO problem with it for any other reason. i mean, i look at those three pictures and my mind singles out the jude watson? because modern/modern/victorian? that's the thing that is not like the others imho. also, he's the only one with a 'stache! and a hat!

any news on who her holmes is going to be? because i'd love to see more racebending. i would also love to see a matching female holmes, but tbh only if she's done/received right - i could easily see a female holmes taken badly, with the traditional holmes vices (addiction, manic-depression, etc) turning into slings against her character simply because she's female (too emotional! too [insert anything here]!) as opposed to just being SHERLOCK HOLMES, with all the crazy that that entails.

and really, the bottom line is just that i'm tired of things (all of those aforementioned bromance dramas) playing with the gay subtext as a marketing point without acknowledging that real people feel these things and sometimes they really do fall in love with their partner. which, means that my issue isn't with this new adaptation, but all the ones that don't push it the extra mile (cough bbc sherlock cough).
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Feb. 28th, 2012 09:53 pm (UTC)
I completely agree with you. I was iffy on the American remake of Sherlock but now I might just excitedly tune in. :)

I don't know how I didn't notice the similarities between Revenge and the Count of Monte Cristo but now that you point it out, I might just go for a re-read of Cristo (haven't read it in like 8 years). Have you caught up with the last couple of episodes ("Perception" & "Chaos") by the way? Were you at all shocked by the reveal of who actually ended up dying on the beach?

Edited at 2012-02-28 09:58 pm (UTC)
Feb. 28th, 2012 10:53 pm (UTC)
Shhh. I'm in Mexico, I haven't seen anything. But Emily/Nolan forever, no matter what.

And yes: this news made me go 'seeing it!' Well played in catering to my tastes, America!
Feb. 28th, 2012 09:53 pm (UTC)
also? PLEASE write a modern gay pride and prejudice. you have no idea how happy that would make me. and so many other people.
Feb. 29th, 2012 03:57 am (UTC)
Sadly, writing is not publishing, and publishing does not equal being read. But it's on my list. ;)
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Feb. 28th, 2012 10:10 pm (UTC)
oh dear :C that does not sound promising at all.
(no subject) - sarahtales - Feb. 28th, 2012 10:55 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tsubaki_ny - Mar. 1st, 2012 02:11 am (UTC) - Expand
Feb. 28th, 2012 10:10 pm (UTC)
Totally agreed. I'm definitely going to watch it! Lucy Liu is fantastic, and I love the idea of a female Watson. Of course it could be a disaster, but so could any TV show. It could also be brilliant :)
Feb. 28th, 2012 10:14 pm (UTC)
Great post!

Is Elementary going to be good? I don’t know. Maybe not! But something I do know… I’m going to watch it.

Me too, me too! I'm starting to get really excited about it. I love Lucy Liu, and I think she can totally pull badass!Watson off. I just hope the writers don't fuck this up; girl!Watson has so much potential but it could really go both ways.

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