The Hunger Games opens in theatres everywhere this Friday, and literally months of buzz are beginning to reach a crescendo. It’s expected to be a blockbuster success, and it’s also the first of a trilogy, so it could be the next major movie franchise.
Besides eager cinemaphiles, other groups are watching carefully to see how the film is both promoted and received (not to say that any of these other interested parties can’t be movie-lovers, too). Genre fans are interested to see yet another speculative fiction blockbuster. Science fiction fans are pleased to see a science fictional work grabbing the same massive demographic that has previously been dominated by fantasy series like Twilight and Harry Potter. At the same time, SF readers are cautiously optimistic at what is looking so far like a faithful reproduction of the books.
Advocates of young adult fiction (which were once upon a time described, perhaps a bit derisively, as juveniles) and champions of literacy in young people in general, are always interested in any teen publishing phenomenon; even better if it happens to be well-written. Teachers, librarians and parents therefore also have a stake in the success of this film, and its potential to bring reluctant readers into the fold.
Heck, even archery clubs might be enthused, since the ass-kicking portrayal of Katniss may encourage teens to string their bows and hit the practice range.
But there’s one other reason to be excited about the Hunger Games. Its significance for gender roles in media. The comparisons to Twilight have been, well, odd. While the Twilight books and films are geared towards young women, especially teens, The Hunger Games is not so gender-specific. While Twilight is somewhat of a fluffy romance (with fantasy elements), The Hunger Games is thoughtful science fiction. I could go on, but it’s easily seen that the only reason to mention Twilight in talking about The Hunger Games is to point out how two media franchises with a strong female following might nevertheless be completely dissimilar.
The fact that comparisons are still being made then is no doubt a strong indicator of the shortage of female leads in general audience films, especially action roles. Off the top of my head I can think of Ripley from the Alien franchise and Sarah Connor from Terminator and Terminator 2. That’s about it for the last few decades.
Any trend towards correcting this disparity is welcome, simply on quality grounds. Audiences are, I think, interested in a new generation of heroic roles that isn’t just a rehash of what Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger did in the ’80s and ’90s. That means heroes of color, women, frankly anything that’s different than what we’ve all seen before.
The strong and resourceful Katniss also performs a dual role for teen readers. It gets more girls reading genre fiction, perhaps bringing a bit more balance in readers (and future authors) in a traditionally male-dominated field. Girls who, perhaps, didn’t know what they were missing. Meanwhile, it gives boys a chance to identify with a character who isn’t exactly like them. After all, changing social attitudes about male and female gender roles requires educating both sexes.
None of this has to be uppermost in your mind when you head to the movies this weekend, however. It looks to be a fantastic ride whether you’re actively thinking about the cultural ramifications or not.
Photo credit: Lionsgate