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New Films Satiate Desire for Multifaceted Female Characters

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1 came out on Nov. 21, 2014 and Lionsgate Studios announced that the final movie of the series is scheduled for release in November 2015. The Hunger Games is a worldwide phenomenon and multi-billion dollar franchise that has attracted millions of fans and has even inspired protests. However, as a BuzzFeed article recently pointed out, you may not have realized that The Hunger Games does what not a lot of young adult books or films have done before: it challenges stereotypical gender positions. Contrary to most young-adult film franchises, in which the female is a supporting role or portrayed as the trophy and/or as the helpless girlfriend, The Hunger Games trilogy reverses gender stereotypical roles by placing Katniss, the female lead character, as the “hero,” and Peeta, one of Katniss’s love interests, as the “damsel in distress.” We at the UltraViolet believe that Hollywood is headed in the right direction: production companies are creating dimensional female characters that will have positive influences on the female and male teens that will watch their movies.

Popular blockbuster series in the past have included Twilight, Harry Potter, Transformers, James Bond, and Star Wars, among others, which often objectify the female roles and put the women in positions where they are forced to depend on the male characters. Even though Bella Swan, in Twilight, is the female main character, she almost always ends up being saved by Edward Cullen, her male counterpart. In James Bond, the male hero usually kills the villain and either wins the girl, as his “trophy,” or saves her from dying.

On the other hand, in The Hunger Games, Katniss is shown as a strong character that does not depend on Peeta for survival; on the contrary, sometimes Peeta depends on Katniss. When Peeta is held hostage in the Capitol for much of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 1, he is the so-called “damsel in distress” that needs saving. Buzzfeed references the “damsel in distress” example in Star Wars to compare previous female objectification to Peeta. Although “[Peeta’s outfit]’s no Leia metal bikini… [Peeta]’s just as much a trophy.” Another idea the BuzzFeed piece points out is that “Katniss is the hunter while Peeta is the baker — she’s the skilled archer where his skills lie in camouflage. Katniss rushes into action while Peeta is better with strategy and PR.” Typically, films render the woman as the calm and rational character, while the man plays the more hands-on, physically strong role. Instead, the female is the one with the weapon, and the male is the one with more sensibility, and we appreciate this new evolvement.

Now Gale, Katniss’s other potential love interest, can be considered the typical male hero action figure; he is always saving Katniss and wants to do everything for her. For example, he goes into the Capitol to rescue Peeta for Katniss. However, Katniss shows viewers that she does not need a man to do everything for her – on the contrary – she does not want to solely depend on a man. She can function perfectly well, even better, when she is in charge. The fact that Katniss chooses the man who doesn’t necessarily do everything for her is a great role model for young girls today.

Adolescent girls and boys will watch these movies and, considering the influence that media has upon children, expect the social dynamic of the films to be mirrored in their own lives. For the past decades, young girls may have thought it socially acceptable to only be the obedient trophy or the calm supporting role to offset the main character: the male. And they still can be in the beta role, but now there are stronger female movie characters that girls can look up to. And vice versa with boys: boys now have a male character who is not necessarily as physically strong as the typical action hero, thereby suggesting that it’s okay to have a more emotional or intellectual mindset.

Movies like The Hunger Games reinforce that there is not necessarily only one type of character or specific facet that males and females are supposed to have. Furthermore, they reinforce the message that a woman’s independence is important, and ultimately, a key to her success. It’s great that we can finally see a manifestation, in the form of The Hunger Games trilogy, of the progress that our culture and the film industry have made about reversing gender stereotypes.