Excitement struck the YA community this week with the announcement that the popular novel Iron Widow has been slated for a film adaptation. The novel, published last year to rave reviews, will have its story converted to screen by playwright J.C. Lee (“How to Get Away with Murder“, “Looking“). Erik Feig will be at the helm of this Picturestart production, according to Variety. Feig has had a hand in a number of prominent YA adaptations, including the “Divergent”, “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight” franchises. Considering Feig’s portfolio, there’s no question that he’s got ample experience adapting YA novels into film.
Monsters, Mechs, and Misogyny
The novel in question centers on Zetian, a young woman in the alternate-futuristic society of Huaxia. In a post-apocalyptic world, civilization survives by fighting off terrible monsters with enormous mechas called Chrysalises. Each mecha is copiloted by a man and a woman, the woman responsible for providing the man with spiritual energy necessary to power the machine. But the mental strain tends to kill the female pilots, to the point that compatible pairs are seen as perfect couples.
The protagonist volunteers to copilot with the man who killed her sister, murdering him through the psychic link as revenge. It earns her the title of ‘Iron Widow’, given to women capable of reversing the energy dynamic between pilots. Despite being paired with the strongest male pilot in Huaxia, Zetian won’t rest until she’s dismantled this misogynistic system.
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In the short time since Iron Widow hit the shelves, the book has amassed a large fanbase for its progressive themes and rich world inspired by Chinese history. The bisexual Asian protagonist is representation celebrated by many, a feminist icon whose violent nature some critics find problematic. Author Xiran Jay Zhao’s fictional interpretation of Empress Wu (China’s sole female emperor) is unapologetic in her righteous warpath. That deep-seated anger is something that many minority readers can relate to. The M/F/M polyamorous relationship has also hooked readers who find the heteronormative rhetoric of Young Adult fiction tiresome. This unique spin on the dystopian YA novel is a breath of fresh air for fans of the genre.
The Film: What Do We Know?
No director or actors have been confirmed yet, but Jay Zhao has reassured their fans that they will make every effort to elevate new Asian actors over Hollywood mainstays. As for the production crew, it is difficult to make a clear assessment so far. The poor reception and subsequent cancellation of Feig’s “Divergent” series somewhat taint the producer’s reputation in the YA community. Jessica Switch and Julia Hammer will be producing alongside Feig. They’re also relatively underground, the former’s most prevalent works being “Texas Chainsaw” and “The Possession”.
Screenwriter J.C. Lee has written for film, television, and theater, best known for his play Luce. The story centers on the titular teenager, whose parents discover a secret that completely shatters their perception of him. The play deals with race, parenthood, and privilege and was adapted into a film that Lee co-wrote. The screenwriter’s experience writing the trials of young adulthood and societal perceptions bode well for his handling of Iron Widow’s major themes.
Let the Hype Commence
There is yet very little that can be determined about the film, but Jay Zhao’s dedication to their readers and the integrity of their story are indicative that they will have a strong influence on production. For now, the young flourishing author continues to celebrate alongside fans, who are eager to see this year’s hottest Young Adult novel hit the big screen.