With the release of the The Hunger Games, America might get its first-ever blockbuster female lead who both kicks ass and has a soul. One who — unlike Beatrix Kiddo, the marauding wife of the Kill Bill movies, or Lara Croft of Tomb Raider — is more than just an action figure with a killer rack.
Katniss Everdeen, the narrator of the Hunger Games story, is three-dimensional in every sense of the word: She’s a complicated, sympathetic character who, like all heroes, is committed to doing the right thing and learns how to use her gifts and circumstances to change the world. And while a love triangle is a big part of the books, Katniss resists and resents the conventional trappings of romance and femininity (which makes her quite unlike another recent blockbuster heroine we’ll get to in a moment). She doesn’t have time or patience for a retrograde courtship, and she’s not a particularly understanding, nonthreatening, sexually available sort of girl. She’s too busy keeping herself and her family alive.
Which brings us to Twilight. As every sentient being already knows, the story is told from the point of view of Bella Swan, a teenager who falls in love with a soulful vampire just trying to do the right thing and resist her fleshy temptations. Throughout the long supernatural slog, Bella moons around non-threateningly while her love interest Edward, his vampire family, and a werewolf named Jacob do the heavy ass-kicking a billion-dollar franchise requires.
But unlike Twilight, Collins’ series has successfully crossed the gender line and been embraced by boys and even the elusive adult male fiction reader — a rare feat in the world of young adult fiction these days. A high-grossing Hunger Games film would prove that the road to female-led blockbuster immortality doesn’t always have to wind through Robert Pattinson’s boudoir. A successful Hunger Games franchise would help prove the obvious — that if a story is universal and the action is riveting, female characters can carry monster hits too. And all the better if they’re given enough agency and drive to act rather than simply being acted upon.
If the Hunger Games films (there are at least two more in the works) perform as well as they ought to, maybe studios will finally wise up to the fact that just like the millions of girls who have turned out in droves for Harry Potter, Star Wars, James Bond, Lord of the Rings, and every superhero movie ever made, boys and men will likewise show up and shell out in big numbers for movies narrated by girls.
And that’s good news for everyone. Because all of us, girls and boys, would do well to see a few new female faces — and some people of color too, while we’re at it — try their hand at saving the world.
Amelia Kahaney’s short stories have appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, One Story, Crazyhorse, and other publications. She has recently contributed to a series of young adult novels produced by Alloy Entertainment.