Katniss Everdeen: Another Cookie-Cutter Heroine, or a Feminist Role Model?


“A heroine owns her power and controls her own destiny.”
(Dorothy Snarker, AfterEllen.com)

The whole theater is laughing. The trailer continues to wail its sad-serious music, but no one’s listening. Every line and intense stare on-screen gets a new burst of ridiculing laughter. Apparently these Hunger Games fans really don’t have patience for Twilight: Breaking Dawn: Part 2. We are waiting for fem-power fighting action in the form of Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist of the latest of Hollywood’s book-to-film young adult flicks, based on Suzanne Collins’ novel The Hunger Games. The premise: Surviving in the dystopian world of Panem is close to impossible when Katniss becomes a sacrificial tribute in the Capitol’s [sic] yearly games to-the-death.

I went to see The Hunger Games in San Francisco with my partner Jess the night after it opened in theaters. I went as an avid fan of the books, having read the whole series, and my partner went not having read the books and knowing little about the actual plotline, except that it was some sort of cross between Battle Royale, Gladiator, and Twilight. I was amazed at the range of people waiting in line with us. The expected audience of high schoolers eating fast food while shouting their favorite quotes at each other, gangly middle schoolers with their wary-looking mothers, and giggly college students, was joined by men in sleek business suits just off of work, power lesbians masking their glee that they were first in line by discussing their friends’ serious relationship problems, and older couples glowing in rekindled love.  It’s strange what a little bloodshed and kickassery will bring out of the woodwork.

But is it really the predictable American penchant for blood and violence or sappy heteronormative romance that brought all these people out to see The Hunger Games? What is it, exactly, that has made this movie gross over $302.5 million in sales and land top at the box office for a third weekend in a row, beating a remastered version of James Cameron’s 1997 “Titanic”?

The Hunger Games has been applauded as an advancement in gender equality in film. The author is a woman; the main character is also a “strong” young woman; total proof that women will someday rule the silver screen. Right? The Hunger Games takes it place among many other action films said to have strong female leads, including but not limited to Thelma & Louise, the Tomb Raider series, Hanna, Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Twilight, Sucker Punch, and Alice in Wonderland. Yet the recent rise in female film protagonists in blockbuster films does not necessarily mean that feminism has abolished misogynistic tropes from popular media. Many of these heroines succeed based on their innocence and/or stereotypical beauty, instead of their intelligence, their strength, and other internal traits. They float through the plot, surviving because of their impenetrable naivety and the aid of their knights-errant. The reinforcement of these tropes teaches a new generation of young women that their power comes from their appearance and their ability to catch the opposite sex. This is not a feminist message.


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