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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