Why ‘The Hunger Games’ Is So Revolutionary To The Role of Women In Film

I was captured by the suspense-driven plot from the beginning and I was not alone in the love of this franchise. Catching Fire: Part II, the final instalment of The Hunger Games series, has had the 4th biggest box office weekend opening in history.

As the final film approaches us this month I wanted to reflect and congratulate The Hunger Games on being one of the most successful films series’ led by a woman. And not only that, but a strong female character whose sole objective doesn’t revolve around a man.

Some of you may have heard of The Bechdel Movie Test which was inspired by a comic book strip (pictured below). It wasn’t created to assess whether a film was feminist or not, or even whether it was a good film. It was designed to assess the presence of women in film. According to this test, a film has to pass 3 simple questions:

1) It has at least 2 women in it who are named,

2) who talk to each other, and,

3) about something besides a man.

This sounds very simple and I bet you are thinking most film’s would pass this test but you would be wrong. Here are just a few popular titles which don’t pass the test which I am sure you will recognise: The Dark Knight, Bourne Identity, Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean 1,2,3, Ocean’s 12, Lord of the Rings 1,2,3, Toy Story, Gladiator, Home Alone, Indiana Jones, Quantum of Solace 007, Tomb Raider, Austin Powers 1,2,3… it goes on and on. See a larger list here. 

bechdel test
The Bechdal Test Comic Strip

It could be argued that there have been similarly strong female led films before this one in recent films such as Tomb Raider. In this film series, video game icon Lara Croft is portrayed as obviously sexy: large breasts, hot pants, and skin-tight clothing which defines her character and emphasises the sad fact that “the entire industry is built upon creating films which cater for and are about men”. Now displaying sexuality is fine and I celebrate women that own their sexuality. But the simple fact is “many of these characters exist as a constant performance of sex written by and for men… With female characters rarely having a voice of their own”. 

lara croft angelina jolie
Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft

The Hunger Games‘ Katniss Everdeen is many things: the hunter, the hunted, a friend, a lover, a sister, a daughter, the Mockingjay. For this article I have uncovered the 3 main reasons why The Hunger Games is so important in the film industry, particularly for women.

  • Firstly, what stands out to me in these films is that Katniss is defined by things other than her sexuality. She is not dressed in a provocative manner or made to come across in an overtly sexual way simply because she is female, yet she still comes across as attractive. Why? I believe it is because she is created as a desirable and sexy woman through more subtle ways: through her strength, courage, leadership, and skills with a weapon.

  • The characteristics we typically associate with men (particularly in films) are applied to the main female protagonist –  for instance, Katniss is depicted as a hunter and gatherer with her infamous bow and arrow. She oozes strength, bravery, and more importantly has her own assertive opinion. One of the first scenes we ever see of Katniss is when she is hunting a deer and providing food for her family. This continues throughout these films as we see this young female character survive despite what the patriarchal capital throws at her, “shooting her flaming arrow” back.

  • Katniss presents unquestionable leadership skills. She is at the forefront of the revolution and is not easily swayed by people who are considered to be above her. She is strong, opinionated and doesn’t care what people think about her. One of the most memorable examples of this is when she is presented to the sponsors in the first film and fails to capture their attention when she shoots her arrow and misses the bullseye. She goes on to shoot the next arrow at the apple which is amongst the sponsors and most importantly the game keeper. This is one of first moments of rebellion and bravery which she shows towards the capital. She is the perfect leader as she doesn’t demand the respect and following of people – she earns it organically and through her actions: the qualities of a true leader.
Katniss Everdeen Hunger Games
Katniss Everdeen.

But so what? Why is this so important to highlight this? Well, quite simply there is a severe gender gap in the film industry which has been documented in new research by the Centre for the study of Women in Television and Film. The San Diego State university found that “females comprised a measly 12% of protagonists in the top grossing films of 2014”. 

Perhaps the biggest reason behind these figures are because women are also vastly underrepresented behind the scenes as well as on them, as demonstrated in the graph below:

women missing in film

In The Hunger Games, the hero is female (for once), the film has a genuinely good plot, is satisfyingly action-packed and displays the acting prowess of Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence. The four films of the series gathered great scores and reviews (84%, 89%, 65% and 90% respectively on rotten tomatoes) What does this prove? This proves that you can have remarkable female-led movies, with intelligent plots, storylines and a talented main actress without falling into the cliché of the predictable rom-com or ‘chick flick’.

The Sweetest Thing Film Poster
‘The Sweetest Thing’ Film Poster.

On top of the critics’ positive reaction, there appears to be a good reaction from the public despite this blockbuster being female-led. This shows there is a large audience for these kind of films and perhaps even a mass appreciation. An article I came across interestingly stated, “male dominance in this arena is out of touch with the demographics of the movie going population, given that women buy half of the tickets sold each year”. This evidence supports the case that there is definite target audience for this breed of filmmaking and the measly 12% of females in top grossing films last year should change now to reflect this.

The question is: will the success of The Hunger Games lead to more female action heroines on our screens? I sure hope so.

Written by Rebecca Woolford – Founder of Fanny Pack.

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