by Jessica Critcher
I managed to get tickets to a Hunger Games / Hunger Games: Catching Fire opening night double feature this week. As the theater began to fill up, I thought about the fact that I was about to see a movie with a stellar female cast and a complicated female protagonist, based on a bestselling book written by a woman.
It’s not an experience I get to have very often, so I decided to savor it. With ticket prices skyrocketing, the media we support makes a very real political statement.
As the Guardian points out:
Of the top 100 US films in 2011, women accounted for 33% of all characters and only 11% of the protagonists, according to a study by the San Diego-based Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film.
With a few exceptions (like in groups, where I’m out-voted), I don’t like to pay at the box office for movies that don’t pass the Bechdel Test. To pass, a film must have two female characters with names, and they have to talk to each other about something besides a man. It’s not a measure of whether or not a film is feminist. It’s a basic check-mark for female representation. Even though it’s simple to pass, a staggering amount of films can’t seem to manage it. Cinemas in Sweden have started applying a Bechdel-based rating on films, and The Hunger Games films pass easily.
I’m still buzzing over the film and the franchise as a whole. But I have been reflecting on a few things since I left the theater. There are spoilers below, so go see the movie, or better yet, check out the books for free at your local library.
Range of Female Characters
I don’t love these films just because there are a ton of female characters. Katniss is courageous and she does whatever she has to do to keep her family safe. Everyone loves an underdog. But the depth of the story is enhanced by the different types of women we see, and the ways they grow in the films.
Prim starts out as a scared girl who would have died in the Hunger Games if her sister hadn’t volunteered to save her. But she grows into a level-headed healer with a blossoming political awareness. Katniss’s mother slipped into a severe depression after her husband was killed, which forced Katniss to provide for the family. While this primarily shows Katniss and her ability to survive, it also shows a humanized picture of motherhood. Sometimes moms drop the ball– it’s almost like they’re human beings with their own thoughts and feelings.
Effie Trinket might be my favorite character in the story, though her role is minor. And it’s not just because of her amazing outfits. Being from The Capitol, she starts out in favour of the Hunger Games, full of patriotism at the idea that young children should kill each other on national television. But as she gets to know Katniss and Peeta, the gravity of the situation slowly dawns on her, and when they are sent into the Games a second time, she tears up, telling them they deserved better. For someone as obsessed with rules and manners, (and for someone born and raised in The Capitol with no real stake in The Games or a reason to care about kids from District 12) this might as well be her open rebellion against the Capitol.
Effie is not particularly brave or even very smart. But when there are a variety of female characters (instead of sexy lamps) their flaws and differences enhance their humanity. We are shown women not just as mothers or love interests, but as wise mentors like Mags, tech geniuses like Wiress, and vicious killers like Enobaria and Johanna.
Acceptable Reasons Not To Like Peeta
It took me a while to warm up to Peeta. And, to be honest, I was pretty miffed that I got the Peeta collectible cup at the theater instead of the Katniss one. Not everyone has to like him, but I feel like we should all be on the same page if we’re going to hate him.
Not liking Peeta because he has a stalker crush on Katniss and watches her walk home every day for ten years is fine. Not liking him because he’s “a wuss” is actually just misogyny, and it means you don’t really hate Peeta, just traits that are traditionally associated with women.
Let’s do another one. Hating Peeta because he probably could have managed to help the (obviously starving to death) girl of his dreams a little more than he actually did is fair. Hating Peeta because he didn’t kill any children in the Hunger Games is not cool. Hating Peeta because his motives with regard to Katniss often seemed sinister is ok. Hating him because he gets hurt a lot and needs Katniss to help him doesn’t even make sense. Read more