As Mockingjay – Part 1 approaches, The Hunger Games should be viewed as a franchise for all, not just for women.
In a Hollywood-dominated world that believes men won’t watch films about women, Suzanne Collins’ epic franchise The Hunger Games is blazing a trail. With both films so far making the top ten highest grossing list in the respective years in which they were released, why do some who move among us still pin them as girls’ films? Is it because the protagonist is a girl? If we’re working on that basis, then all films (practically every film ever made ever) with male protagonists must be boys’ films. The ridiculousness of this statement is backed by the fact that now young women and men go to the cinema in equal numbers, illustrating that now more than ever people don’t care whether the protagonist is male or female.
Why should boys not enjoy a battle scene led by a bright, beautiful girl? How insulting that we assume she can’t be their idol too
Katniss Everdeen is a decent role model and the embodiment of strength of body and mind: the ideal message. Why should boys not enjoy a hearty battle scene led by a bright, beautiful girl who could take them on? Is it less appealing to them because she should be weaker? Meeker? Is she a threat? How insulting that we assume she can’t be their idol too. Catching Fire features dystopian horror, battles to the death, gruesome executions and plenty of good old gore. If we look at this from the traditional standpoint of the Hollywood market audience, who is it appealing to? Maybe many girls wouldn’t like it at all. Maybe men and women who watch it aren’t bothered that the hero is female, because in a story of hell and high drama, of love stories and family ties, of gratuitous violence and living on the edge, maybe it doesn’t really matter that she’s a girl – other things are more important.
Those who see The Hunger Games as a girls’ film are still looking through a gendered lens, sloppily shoving a great story and a marvellous film into a box labelled ‘girls’ and dismissing it based on overbearing, old-fashioned ideals of which films suit who. Those who do believe this still, sadly, are the powers that be. Hollywood has ever been unsuccessful in estimating the power of women at the box office. Last year, only 15% of the top 100 grossing films in the US featured a female protagonist. Our film industry nurtures the idea that men in film, their stories and their acting, matters intrinsically more than women in film. Films like The Fault in Our Stars encourage girls and young women to flock to the cinema in their droves – the audience should not be underestimated, and neither should the sex of the protagonist in the ability to draw in a mixed crowd.
The success of the female-led The Hunger Games franchise is testament to the appeal of similar films to both men and women – there’s no way such box office numbers would be achieved with only half the population at the box office. Films like Frozen and Maleficent, which have broken the bank at the box office, show we are moving in the right direction. But it’s attitudes that need to change. Multi-faceted characters are integral to screenwriting: women very often only serve one function in a film. In The Hunger Games, Katniss serves many, and it’s all the better for it.
The way in which blockbusters are promoted by default alienates the female gaze by targeting an assumed all-male audience
Motivation is often lost in female characterisation, especially in romance, but not so here; while it is true that much of Katniss’s agency is undermined by her symbolisation of the Mockingjay, she has all the hallmarks of a strong, intelligent, unswayed young woman with potential, compassion and ingenuity at her disposal. The stereotype that men won’t watch women in film is a myth perpetuated by distributors. The way in which blockbusters are promoted by default alienates the female gaze by targeting an assumed all-male audience. Distributors work on the assumption that men watch films about men, and so do women automatically. So this is where this franchise diverges. These films do indeed cater for the female gaze, but that does not mean that they thus automatically exclude men.
In an industry where just 29% of speaking characters are women, where ladies are six times more likely to be sexualised than men even in children’s films, why are we criticising an empowered character who drives the action, the narrative and the soul of the film? Because that’s what we’re doing when we say The Hunger Games is just a series of girls’ films. We’re taking away Katniss’s – an inspirational character, the embodiment of our cinematic feminism – relevance, stereotyping her, limiting her. Maybe girls love The Hunger Games, and so they should. But so should boys. Ask yourself what impact thinking down gendered lines might have on others’ perceptions, and what it means for future generations of cinemagoers.
Featured image: Lionsgate
Inset image: 20th Century Fox