The massive success of The Hunger Games film created a unique situation for the movie, book, comic and video game industries. A good female lead can bring in the average consumer. The question now is what to do with that information.
It’d be far too easy to consider Katniss as a fluke, one time heroine. Unfortunately, should a string of movies hit theaters boasting a good female lead fail, the achievements of The Hunger Games could be cast aside by some critics. The reality is that not every female lead will connect with audiences. Just as their male counterparts, some will miss the target. A woman character is judged differently than a male. How many times is a grand romantic gesture seen as touching for a man to do, yet if a woman does it, it’s weak? The man searching for the woman he loves seems noble where as a woman appears pathetic.
The other, more desirable, alternative is that we will see more female leads worthy of being grouped with Katniss. These heroines don’t need to be purely action-oriented. Think about the great male characters that aren’t fighting to save their family, friends, home or self during the entire piece. Forest Gump fought for his country and saved his friends, yet those actions are only part of what made him a hero. His non-combative actions are worthy of the label heroic. The ability to shoot straight or fight to the death does not mean a person is a hero.
Is a woman staying at home to tend to the family and work in the factory while her husband fights overseas any less of a hero? Would a movie featuring this role be received well? I’d like to say yes, but realistically the answer is no. That said, if the roles were reversed, the man would seem a hero.
The appeal of The Hunger Games is not based on Katniss being a woman; it’s her personal journey, story and self. The thousands who saw this movie didn’t do it only because the main character was a woman. Throwing a person into a situation with a flimsy personality and no real self-worth doesn’t work. When writing a character, gender is important. It’s impossible to erase gender from a person. With various groups working to eliminate gender roles from children by forbidding the use of certain pronouns and limitations on play, it feels as if gender has become something to be ashamed. How many children aren’t allowed to play with a particular toy just because it can be construed as belonging to a particular stereotype?
Gender plays a major role in the development of a person, from the obvious physical characteristics to the more complex psychological. Insinuating that only men have “the balls” to act bravely or that a woman must “think like a man” to succeed sends the entire fight back 150 years. Turning everyone into one androgynous gender isn’t a solution.
That is not what needs done to create a good female lead. While some roles can fit either a man or woman, drafting a male character but changing it to female just for the sake of using a woman is a cheap ploy.
Creators need to take the time to look at why Katniss connects with so many people. Katniss is a different type of heroine that can’t be limited by the current categories. She’s not the same as heroes before. If she was, she wouldn’t be nearly as popular.
The literary and film success of The Hunger Games provides the ideal springboard to launch more female-driven entertainment. The pressure is on for the creation and publicizing of viable female leads. Ignoring the opportunity will only limit what we see in the future.