The Hunger Games: A story for women and girls that everyone can love

The only thing that could have made me more excited about The Hunger Games is if the trailer was put to Rihanna…Oh look!

In case you didn’t notice (ha!), last night The Hunger Games premiered at midnight across the country. The highly-hyped movie sold more advance tickets on Fandago than any other non-sequel film ever and brought in an estimated $19.7 million last night. Its expected box office numbers for opening weekend–between $115 and $120 million–could break records.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, but we wrote about the books last year, and I’m excited about its success for many reasons. It’s a story about class and inequality and power that resonates deeply in these times. And as Courtney wrote in the New York Times recently, it’s sparked some pretty awesome fan-fuel activism through the “Hunger Is Not a Game” campaign–an effort that Lionsgate, in a total douchey move, is now trying to shutdown.

Plus, as Melissa Silverstein wrote recently, The Hunger Games is poised to become the first huge movie franchise with a female lead–that isn’t Twilight. While Twilight’s audience skewed female and, as Silverstein says, “made the huge numbers in spite of the fact that it was about a girl,” The Hunger Games seems to be gaining a broad-based, gender-neutral, Harry Potter-like fan base. Silverstein writes, “That’s the thing about this movie that is so revolutionary–that it is a typical Hollywood franchise film that happens to be a story about a girl.”

Of course, it’s not entirely true that people haven’t even noticed that Katniss Everdeen is a girl. The books’ immense popularity with teenage girls means there’s been plenty of wondering about whether boys could possibly like it too–as if appealing to one gender automatically means alienating the other. I think that overestimates how much guys these days actually give a fuck about the gender of their action heroes–and underestimates Katniss’ universal appeal. But then again, I’m clearly biased. As one negative review warned, “Be wary of reviews by female critics, as they’re probably more susceptible to the lore of this young-female-adult-propelled franchise than most (‘You go, Katniss!’).” Well, yeah. Sue me.

Which is why, while I hope Silverstein is right that this movie finally proves to Hollywood that movies about girls kicking ass can be commercial successes, I don’t really care if guys don’t love it as much as girls do. They’ve still got plenty of movies “for” them. Laurie Penny wrote in a brilliant piece on The Hunger Games and the Twilight series:

Both series have male fans, but they’re not specifically catered to, in the way that James Bond films, Bruce Willis films or, indeed, 95 percent of the rest of the output of the film and fiction industries don’t particularly concern themselves with the female gaze. In these series, it is women and girls who have desires, passions and problems, women and girls who act on those desires or are consumed by them, and men who are the objects of desire, even if they show up in the story addicted to the whiff of the heroine’s funky-smelling blood.

Identifying with a character of the opposite gender is something that women and girls learn to do automatically, out of necessity, because there is no other choice if you are a lady who likes to watch movies that aren’t rom-coms sometimes. It’s high-time guys gave it a try–and I promise the awesome Katniss Everdeen will make it easy for you.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • Veda

    I love The Hunger Games series, and I can’t wait to see the movie this weekend!

    But the article linked that claims that it is set to be the first huge female-led franchise is so inaccurate. Ripley in the Alien series, Sarah Connor in the Terminator movies, Lara Croft, the Bride in the Kill Bill movies… they are all successful action movie franchises with strong (literally and figuratively) female leads. It’s true that women are underrepresented in Hollywood in general and action franchises in particular, and none of those characters are teens, but the specificity of a teen lead doesn’t appear to be the point that the author is trying to make. Hunger Games can be groundbreaking and exciting without, thankfully, having to be the first female-led franchise. Ripley: never forget!

    • beet

      I agree, but I think what she means is that it’s the first since the shift to the Superhero/Pixar/Male-centered comedy era circa 2002-2003. That excludes chronologically Alien, Terminator, and Lara Croft but includes Kill Bill. Kill Bill wasn’t “huge”. The total gross was only $70 million. And ‘franchises’ back then were nothing like today. Seven years passed between the first and second Alien and Terminator movies, which you would never see with a franchise today. Hollywood was much less franchise-obsessed back then.

      The important point to understand here is that things were far better for women at the box office in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s (and even the 1930’s in some ways– if you read Molly Haskell those were the golden years). Not only were there movies like Alien and Terminator that weren’t based on previous franchise successes in other mediums such as books, and Hollywood was less reliant on churning out sequel after sequel, but comedies were less male-centric and dramas where women played strong roles were far more common. Then in the early 2000s, women seemed to disappear from a lot of these genres.

  • Adrienne

    Isn’t “Alien” also a series driven by a female lead?

  • That’sMy70’sBush

    I am not familiar with The Hunger Games at all. I really want to see the movie, but my main concern is that people are equating feminism as a woman’s (girl’s) ability to be just as violent as men on the field of battle.

    I know my concerns are probably simplifying the issue, but I would hate to think this is the 21st century criteria for a strong female character.

  • Sydney P

    Not to say ‘ba-humbug’ at anyones success, but I think the Hunger Games deserves a slightly more critical approach. Sure, the main character is a girl and she’s kicking ass, but there’s a lot in these books that’s just as bad as the Twilight series at perpetuating outdated and sexist views of young women. Namely that any romantic venture must be tied to marriage and children, or else it’s impossible and not even imagined.

    Honestly, I think the commentors citing Ripley and Sarah Conner are right: Katniss is not the only heroine available to modern young women, and she shouldn’t be.

    • Kate

      You should take the time to read the book or, if you didn’t, check out the movie. Katniss thinks the romance is fake the whole time, and there’s a lot of ambiguity over her feelings. What she definitely does is subvert the system and PRETEND she’s in a budding romance to manipulate the wealthy sponsors into giving her lifesaving goods. In fact, at the end of the book, she has a rather terrible moment of realization that she and Peeta were only brought together by circumstance and may never be compatible. Romance is definitely not the singular focus of the book or movie.

  • Sheila

    OMG I love the books. The movie was a bit of a disappointment, but they always are for me. My biggest disappointments were how rushed it felt, all the emotional scenes were super fast or taken out, and that the food in the book is a big deal and in the movie they completely skip it. It is called the HUNGER games after all.

    And a little shameless self promotion- I have a food blog and have been making food from the book. Here is the link-

    • Flor

      Sheila I completely agree. No one in the movie even looked hungry! I thought the movie was fine, it didn’t stray from the book in terms of events. But the main thing that was lost was all of Katniss’ inner tension that made her a complex character. It the book it was really her intelligence that was her greatest strength, not her ability with the bow and arrow.

  • Stacey

    Third best opening weekend OF ALL TIME. Best opening weekend, period, for a non-sequel.

    How is that even possible? Doesn’t everyone know it’s a girl movie?!

  • Lindsay

    From what I have observed (I teach 7th grade Reading/Language Arts) The Hunger Games is drawing the attention from both genders! I read the books because my students were all reading them. At first, I noticed that a few of my boys were reading the series and I always ask them about what they are reading on their own. They basically told me that I NEEDED to read the books and I bought them for our class–both my girls and boys borrow the books constantly and are reading it within days. I think it’s a great way for young men to see that not all young women are like Bella from Twilight.