Feb 13 2012 12:15pm

More Katniss, Less Bella: The Hunger Games as a Game-Changer

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.

This article is part of The Hunger Games on ‹ previous | index | next ›
1. PhoebeSF
One who — unlike Beatrix Kiddo, the marauding wife of the Kill Bill movies— is more than just an action figure with a killer rack

That seems to be a bit of a reductive description of Kiddo.
john mullen
2. johntheirishmongol
Good movies with good stories work. It doesn't matter about gender or color. I can give you examples with women, including the Alien franchise. There have been successful black action stars back to the 60s. Good stories and good action works for most everyone.
David Hawkins
3. dhawkin4
Yeah let's not forget about Ellen Ripley from the Alien franchise (at least the first two installments). And speaking as an adult male, I liked the Hunger Games trilogy because the love triangle wasn't the main focus. It was a big part, but not as big a part as surviving the Games was.
4. sofrina
dunno how you can have more soul than to hunt down the people who murdered your daughter. (and beatrix kiddo wasn't married. the deadly vipers shot up her wedding rehearsal.) in that respect the blood-spattered bride has much in common with katniss everdeen: they both know exactly who matters most to them and put everything they have into saving that person.

hunger games is nothing like twilight, really. bella is just a girl with a crush. katniss is in the fight of her life. it's the cruel, dystopian story that draws a male audience.
Ryan Britt
5. ryancbritt
I think what's being dicussed here is that Katniss is a way more interesting character than Bella, and they're both the main characters of a popular YA series. So, if the cruel, dystopian story draws in a male audience, and everyone gets exposed to better female
protagonists instead of "girls with crushes," then isn't that a good thing?
Walker White
6. Walker
I was just about to mention how insulting that opening sentence is to the Alien franchise, but others beat me to it.
7. jennygadget

Yes, This exactly.

Also, according to the Hollywood suits, Aliens and Kill Bill are
anomalies. The latter is also not a movie many parents would encourage their teen daughters to see.

In contrast - from Harry Potter* to Twilight to now the Hunger Games, you have a nice string of blockbuster movies with a core fanbase of teen girls. When Hunger Games does well, this give Hollywood suits even less of an excuse than before to claim that no one wants to see female action heroes. Least of all teen movie-goers, who, before Harry Potter, were generally thought by the money counters to only be worth considering if they were male.

*Harry Potter did not start this way, but it very much ended this way. And is surely a big part of why someone decided to take a chance on Twilight.
8. jennygadget
Regarding Aliens specifically, I read that first sentence as more being about the first _deliberate_ and successful female action hero - Ripley's popularity caught a lot of the suits off guard, was what I remember hearing.

But well, I admit that reading of the sentence is more in the subtext than the text.
Ryan Britt
9. ryancbritt

I think we all love Ellen Ripley. I think Katniss is unique because she's new, she's now, she has a wide and unique appeal, and she comes from books!
john mullen
10. johntheirishmongol
Look Ryan, that's nice, but it isn't new. It isn't about gender, but about good stories and legit action. Let me throw another out there. T2 was at least as much about Linda Hamilton's character as any other in the film. And there was no doubt she was tough enough.

Back in the 60's there was also Cleopatra Jones, who was black and sexy and an action star, played by the very cute Tamara Dobson.

It's nice you like a new movie coming out, but dont try to make it more than it is...if you really want to make some movies from books that are popular and with female leads, there are a lot better franchises out there than some kids books.
Mike Conley
11. NomadUK
it's the cruel, dystopian story that draws a male audience.

Well, all I can say is, some of the male audience is drawn by the prospect of an intelligent, self-assured (and, therefore, attractive — at least to that male audience segment) female lead. I've never quite understood the appeal of helpless bimbos in film.

The cruel, dystopian story probably doesn't hurt, though.
Chad Winters
12. doctorwinters
"But unlike Twilight, Collins’ series has successfully crossed the gender line and been embraced by boys and even the elusive adult male fiction reader"

Tor is a sci-fi publisher right? Haven't they heard of Honor Harrington, Kris Longknife, any book by Elizabeth Moon.......

I don't think the average adult sci-fi reader has any trouble with strong female lead characters. Twilight didn't crossover as much because it was a weak story that catered to swooning adolescent girls...but I guess the strong stories that already exist didn't count as young adult. So I guess I can see that YA fiction may be getting closer to where adult sci-fi already is...
13. more women
Jennifer Lawrence is fine. She's a leo also. Rawr.

I'm gonna see the movie.

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