More of this feminism, please – Katniss and The Hunger Games

I’m late to the party blogging about The Hunger Games but it’s such a luxury getting out to the cinema at all post-baby that I can’t help but mark the event.

We ended up seeing it by accident. We’d actually bought tickets for the wrong viewing of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which was disappointing when we eventually saw it.

We sat for a full 20 minutes towards the film’s end, thinking it must be avant garde, before realising the error. The mix up turned out to be serendipitous.

(Warning: This post contains spoilers)

Assuming The Hunger Games would be gratuitously violent and character-thin, I wasn’t keen to see it. How wrong I was.

Katniss Everdeen, the film’s protagonist played by the talented Jennifer Lawrence is a feminist triumph and a sign to Hollywood that blockbusters led by women do sell. We left the theatre physically aching from the tension of the film but unpacking her character was, for me, the most exciting bit.

That’s saying a lot in a plot-line involving a dystopian future in which twenty-four children are forced to fight to the death for a worldwide television reality show.

From the start, Katniss lives outside of traditional gender stereotypes. She hunts and trades to provide for her family. A potential love interest, Gale, is introduced early on but her story is in no way dependent on him.

In fact, its been suggested that gender doesn’t matter in The Hunger Games, in the sense that any of the characters could be male or female and it would not essentially change them or the plot.

The argument goes that Katniss is a feminist character not because she is female and protesting a patriarchal system but because her gender has nothing to do with the story.

This makes sense but I’m inclined to disagree. The world of The Hunger Games is patriarchal. Katniss is told repeatedly that her obstacle to standing a chance in the games is that she is not likeable. To be likeable, she must be desirable: dolled up and the object of Peeta’s affection.

It would be all too easy for the film to disempower a strong female character by forcing her to give in to being sexualised in order to survive. This is not what happens.

Though taking advantage of her beauty and playing the role of star-crossed lover where she needs to, Katniss remains focused. She relies mainly on her wit, prowess in archery and physical strength to protect herself and rescue others.

The film also could have traded her femininity for violence and aggression, making it difficult for us to access her character, but there is none of that here.

Katniss only kills in self-defence, never glories in the violence and spends most of the games running away or hiding to avoid killing or being killed.

In fact, her most subversive acts involve singing to younger girl Rue to ease her passage into death, surrounding her body with flowers, making a sign of solidarity to Rue’s district and threatening to take her own life later on instead of taking Peeta’s.

The way she relates to male characters is important too. I’ve seen her described as a girl between two boys which is both reductive and a clear misreading of her situation.

The film makes it obvious that Katniss performs her romantic affection for Peeta. Feelings beneath the surface are no doubt muddled but it is simply one of the many things she does to save both their lives.

At the film’s end, the look exchanged across the crowd between her and Gale is not one of regret, longing or accusation. We get the sense, rather, that he understands she did what she had to do to keep her promise that she would return. Both relationships are based on mutual respect.

Basically, I’m willing Hollywood to make more films like The Hunger Games, led by female protagonists like Katniss. If only the casting call for her role had also been open to actors of colour. When Talitha’s old enough to watch a 12A, these are the portrayals of femininity I want her to see.


15 Comments

  1. April 25, 2012 / 12:40 pm

    I devoured the books in a week and I’m desparate to see the film. I found Katniss’s character really refreshing. She’s tough, she’s self-sufficient, and doesn’t need either of her male ‘love interests’ to validate herself. I loved the way the story contrasts the media image of Katniss as a desirable girl with the reality of her as a child caught up in this nightmarish situation.

    I think there are some interesting themes in the Hunger Games series, and I love where the author took these themes by the third book – she sort of blew me away by the end, definitely not your typical young adult fiction.

  2. Jenconlan
    April 25, 2012 / 5:16 pm

    Nice blog Adele-I went to see it, and absolutely loved every minute. I am going to try and get the books when I am in the States. xxx

    • April 25, 2012 / 8:31 pm

      I keep hearing great things about the books. I need to read them before someone ends up passing on some spoilers.

  3. AnnPo80
    April 26, 2012 / 6:03 pm

    Not at all a Twilight fan but LOVED the Hunger books dispite the fact the the author had to end her 3rd book to harshly. It would have been much better served to have had a 4th book instead. That aside really enjoyed them & am eager to see the movie. ~ Love your post & the strength of Katniss in this series. Great books for teens (and adults) to be reading! 

  4. MsXpat
    April 27, 2012 / 7:45 am

    You’ve been to the movies! So see a current film, lol. I’ve not been since last summer. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a date night soon (dinner and movie). Thanks for this feedback because I really wanted to see this film. Big up the film heroine we don’t get enough of those :0)

    • May 14, 2012 / 9:34 am

      I was probably just plain excited to go to the movies! I’m a lot more likely to read current books than see current films.

  5. Iota
    April 27, 2012 / 2:13 pm

    Do you wish you’d read the books first (or did you)? My 11 year old has read them all, and I’d like to go with him to the movie. Wondering if I should try and read the books first. 

    I think he might be a bit young, too. Sounds like it’s quite a powerful and intense. He enjoyed the books.

    • May 14, 2012 / 9:33 am

      I’d say let him read the book first (I realise this reply may be a bit late!). The film follows the books quite closely so he might not want to read them after. I think the film and books are very separate things. The books are great for their genre but if I’m honest, I have so many issues with teen fiction as a genre. On the other hand, the film really is a good film.

  6. Helen (and Bethany)
    May 1, 2012 / 9:29 pm

    I have high hopes for this one! http://www.disney.co.uk/brave/#video  And if it turns out to be a good one then Jasmine and Bethany can start watching it a bit sooner than Hunger Games!

    • May 14, 2012 / 9:30 am

      That looks brilliant! I can’t wait to see it. It reminds me a bit of How to Train Your Dragon, which I loved.

  7. May 7, 2012 / 11:40 am

    I admit I havent actually read this post.  I saw you had blogged about the Hunger Games and I wanted to say – I LOVE it!!!  I’m at the end of Book two and wasn’t sure if you gave anything away so I will pop back when I’ve read Mockingjay x

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