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The Hunger Games: a blockbuster with a pro-feminist message

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Denise Turner
WVoN co-editor

The Hunger Games, released earlier this year, is a sci-fi film based on a novel by American writer Suzanne Collins.

In March, the movie grossed $152.5 million during its first weekend box office sales in the US, the third highest of all time. A pleasing result for a film that tackles totalitarianism, food politics and war.

But even more than that, the central character, 16 year-old Katniss Everdeen is a gutsy young woman who, after the death of their father, is forced to take on the ‘male’ role of provider by hunting with a bow and arrow. She shares few other traits with Diana the hunter.

Collins says she was inspired by TV surfing, in which the boundaries between war stories and game shows became ‘disturbingly blurred’; combined with the story of Theseus and gladiatorial games.

The Hunger Games takes place in the dystopian world of Panem, created after the US is destroyed by an apocalyptic event; with a wealthy Capitol and 12 surrounding, poor districts.

Katniss Everdene the heroine resides in District 12. There are obvious parallels with the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ of our own society, and the powerlessness of the (poor) majority.

As punishment for a previous rebellion, a boy and girl from each District between the ages of 12 and 18 are chosen as ‘tributes’ (participants) in the Hunger Games; a mandatory televised show in which they must fight to the death, until one victor remains.

Two other themes are self sacrifice – Katniss volunteers herself to take the place of her younger sister Prim, when her name is selected. And hope, which the President of Panem rightly sees as highly dangerous to the status quo.

And this is what makes Katniss a much more interesting and valuable role model for young women than the bland Twilight character, Bella, who spent her time mooning around after (kind of) guys.

Katniss is not sexualised. From the outset she says she will not marry or have children; nor is she prepared to have crushes on boys, fall in love, or deal with sex.

She tells her mentor, that ‘she doesn’t know how to make people like her.’ Yet because she volunteered, the audience and sponsors (after she shoots a well aimed arrow at their banquet when they’re ignoring her) notice, respect and sponsor her; a necessity to her survival.

Unlike Bella, Katniss doesn’t feel the need to be romantically ‘rescued’ (ie subjugated) by a man. In fact, she herself rescues Peeta, her male counterpart from District 12, when he is stabbed.

She chooses strategy over violence, assuming the role of ‘star-crossed’ lover with Peeta, when she sees that the tactic might save their lives. It does when a rule change states that two tributes from the same District can win as a pair.

Using her bow and arrow, she can provide food, a skill borne of the necessity of her extreme poverty. And rather than adopt the masculine strategy of killing other ‘tributes,’ she uses her wits to stay alive.

She also forms an alliance with Rue, a 12-year-old girl from District 11 who reminds her of sister Prim. Their alliance is short-lived when Rue is killed.

But when Katniss sings to her, covers her body with flowers and makes a defiant gesture to the cameras to register her disgust, it results in riots in District 11, thus making her both politically dangerous to the regime and vulnerable to its wrath.

She compounds this, when the couple are left as the final two tributes standing and the Gamemakers reverse the rule change forcing one to kill the other to win.

Gambling that the Gamemakers would rather have two winners rather than none, she offers Peeta some toxic ‘nightlock’ berries. Realizing they’re intent on suicide, the rule is then rescinded and they both become victors.

A strong theme is Katniss’s struggle with how to be true to herself in an environment that demands a stereotypical girl, a problem that most teenage girls face.

And in that respect the film offers worthwhile commentaries on how hard it is for young women to set their own romantic terms, personal responsibility and identity.

Finally, in volunteering herself to a potentially fatal experience at the Games, Katniss illustrates how love is a revolutionary force that is stronger than fear.

I for one hope this marks the release of more films giving out positive messages to young women, rather than the usual sappy romantic nonsense that films such as Twilight perpetuate.

Sadly an ideal that has been overlooked by many critics including the NY Times, who have criticised Katniss actor, Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘womanly figure’ for being too fat!

  1. vicki wharton says:

    Complain under the womanly figure bit or on the NY Times comment section – its about time we started objecting big time to this sexist shit – they do not subject men to this vitriol about their bodies, time to get them to stop the body hatred on women.

  2. I think the movie was less feminist than feminist. Yes, we got a strong(ish) female lead, but she still sold out for love and lost independence. I am told the book does not end this way.

    Is Hollywood ruining a premise for profit? Perhaps.

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