Guest post by Kay
Not long after The Hunger Games hit theaters, the New York Times published an article entitled “A Radical Female Hero from Dystopia.” While there were points in the article that I agreed with, or was glad they mentioned, the use of the word “radical” to describe Katniss Everdeen rubbed me the wrong way.
Is being resilient while caring for your friends and family that radical? Is it that out of the ordinary for someone to be in a position where they take care of a parent or a sibling or both? Is it odd that a teenager might not want to be a pawn in someone else’s game? Is it strange that she feels awkward playing to the cameras? Is it weird that she knows her strengths and uses them?
Lex pointed out to me that the article was written by two film critics, so they were using films as their narrow frame of reference. But the article still bothers me. These traits are not unheard of for many women (and men) throughout the world.
Notably, Jennifer Lawrence has played a heroic female protagonist in another movie to whom all of the above applies – Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone. I know A.O. Scott can’t be expected to remember every bit of every movie he’s ever seen, but I was surprised he didn’t reference Ree. He reviewed the movie two years ago. It was an Oscar-nominated performance. And it was the same actress. But despite the similarities, he didn’t call Ree radical. Katniss is not a radical character, either. It’s her situation – a dystopian future with a televised child-death match – that is much more far-reaching.
The article’s co-author, Manohla Dargis, cites as one of Katniss’ appealing features that is she isn’t just some random girl. But really, she is. She’s just another citizen of Panem pushing through each day to survive in conditions that are out of her control. She’s not looking to change the world. She’s not looking to save everyone from the Capitol. When she sits out in the woods with Gale before the Reaping, Katniss specifically rejects the idea of running away, of trying to change anything. So while that’s exactly what she does – changes everything – that’s not what she set out to do.
I agree that Katniss is strong, dynamic, and, in a way, does blaze her own trail. What’s missing from the Times article is that she does this in a reactive manner. She didn’t volunteer for a chance to spit in the face of the Capitol; she did it to protect her sister. She loved Prim and had worked so hard to keep her alive, she wasn’t about to just let that go. Katniss doesn’t walk into the rating session during training with the intent to startle the Gamemakers or even to get the highest score; she does what she does as a reaction to them ignoring her. Even when the situation with the berries comes up, she’s not really doing it as an act of rebellion. Katniss just wants to go home, and she wants Peeta to be able to go home too. When she started out she didn’t know if he could win, but the Gamemakers put that possibility in her head and she didn’t like when they took it away. Because of what he’d done for her, she didn’t want to have to kill Peeta to win, either. It’s as simple as that.
She’s not your stereotypical action hero – she’s your relatable hero. And I’m looking forward to seeing many more female characters like her.
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