Friday, November 21, 2014

Katniss Everdeen: The Face of Another Rebellion?

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, a film that follows Katniss Everdeen, a young girl who dared to defy the capital, unknowingly sparking the rebellion of the districts against the capital, grossed over 400 million dollars in the box office while it was in theaters in 2013 (Vary 1).  It has been praised for show casing a strong female lead (Jennifer Lawrence) and made history, becoming the first movie in over 30 years to both star a solo female lead and be rated as the #1 film of the year (Vary 3).  After all the praise that it has received for proving that a movie can be extremely successful without starring a male lead, it might be expected that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire would pass a test grading on the film’s diversity with flying colors.  However, this was not the case.  The representation test is a tool used to grade movies on the representation of different diverse groups in the films, groups such as women, people of color, LGBT people, those with disabilities and diverse body types. Overall, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire received only 7 points on the test, earning a B-. 
As a fan of the film and a supporter of Jennifer Lawrence and the break out success she has had a women lead, I was initially surprised by these findings.  However, after looking more closely at the film and the test, I began to see why it didn’t score as high.  To begin this discussion, I first want to look at the area of diversity most strongly represented in the film, women.  Out of 7 categories in the women section on the Representation Test, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire earned checks for 4 of them.  For one, the film passed the Bechdel test, meaning that it had two or more important female characters that talked about something besides me (Representation Project).  In the film, there is actually more than one scene that passes this test but I want to focus on a scene between Katniss (the main character) and her younger sister Prim.  They are out collecting snow for their injured friend who is male.  Rather than showing the two females discussing him, however, the directors used the scene to showcase the two strong female characters.  This scene defies Hollywood just as the districts are defying the capital in the film: it shows Hollywood that women can be more than oppressed, sexualized supporting actors obsessing over boys on screen, that they can also be strong lead characters who can fight against oppression and protect themselves.

Interestingly enough, this same scene from the movie can also be used in the counter argument that although the film showcased strong women leads, it didn’t stray far from the normal Hollywood lead role who is generally male, white, straight, strong, and attractive.  The scene shows Katniss and Prim, two white, attractive, straight, women who don’t have handicaps or even tattoos.  For the film to have received a higher rating on the Representation Test and to achieve it’s goal of adding diversity to the film world, it would have had to add more diversity to the screen.  As Natalie Hill said in her critic on the film Miss Representation, “If you want your film to start a revolution, be revolutionary; not just in your message, but in whom you get to speak it.”  A female role was simply a small step towards equality of representation of diverse groups whereas a gay or Asian female role would have been revolutionary.  Some may argue that it might have been too drastic of a step for the director and filmmaker to cast such a diverse character and that it will take time before we will see a successful movie with a starring actor that brings more diversity to the film.

            As I was critiquing the film based on the Representation Test, I found that I was disappointed in the apparent lack of representation for the groups listed on the test by the film.  However, I also realized that I don’t think that this test is a fair scale to use when judging a film on its overall diversity.  Although it only earned a low B on the test, I think that The Hunger Games: Catching Fire made a very concise effort to show equality for different races, genders, and social groups in the film without being overly in your face about it.  Rather than cast a character from every race, gender, sexual orientation, or disability, they used a subtler route to effectively increase the diversity in the film and how the audience views them based on the film.  I noticed this in a short scene in the film where the contestants for the upcoming hunger games are on stage at the talk show about the games.  They look to each other, grab hands, and raise them up in a united act of defiance.  Immediately, it was apparent to me that each of the contestants came from a different background (district), some were rich, some poor, some of color, some white, some where male, others were female, young, old, smart, ugly, pretty… the list could go on and on.  Although not all of the racial groups were present on the stage, the overwhelming diversity and the fact that they were all united, chosen for the hunger games based on random chance and their abilities to fight and win rather than socioeconomic status was HUGE.  This scene earned no checks on the Representation Test but I believe that it may have been the most effective scene in the film when it came to supporting, encouraging, and showcasing diversity on an equal playing field.  Because of this, I don’t believe that the Representation Test is a fair scoring system on judging diversity of a film.

            Katniss Everdeen is the face of the rebellion in the film and she is also the face of the movement in Hollywood to promote more diverse characters in film I believe that it contributed to change and although it wasn’t as in your face as the representation test would have liked, it was just as effective in my opinion.  Scenes such as the one between Katniss and Prime highlighted the main group represented in the film (women) and proved that woman do more than just sit around and gossip about men all day.  That in itself is a big success for diversity in films but to top it off, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire devoted an entire scene to showing that all races, genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds are equal and if united, can fight back against oppression.  Overall, I give The Hunger Games: Catching Fire a 4 out of 5 because despite it’s low score on the Representation Test, it still effectively promoted change and had a strong cultural impact on it’s audience.

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