The Hunger Games - A $100 Million Bet on Women as Leaders
In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen embarks on a hero’s journey armed only with her bow, her arrow and her wits: She must survive a televised death match against 23 other young people if she’s to return home and continue hunting to provide food for her family. But in the real world, the character Katniss Everdeen faces an even greater challenge: Proving that pop culture will embrace a heroine capable of holding her own with the big boys.
It’s a battle fought on two fronts. First, The Hunger Games must bring in the kind of box office numbers that prove to Hollywood that a film led by a young female heroine who’s not cast as a sex symbol can bring in audiences. And second, for Katniss to truly triumph, she must embody the type of female heroine — smart, tough, compassionate — that has been sorely lacking in the popular culture landscape for so very long.
I have not read The Hunger Games but have been devouring the coverage online, alerted that it must be worth noting by one of my main pop culture bellwethers, Kristin Maverick, quickly followed up by another, Jenna Wortham, and solidified by my book-world bellwether, Glynnis MacNicol. It definitely seems a few shades rougher than the TriWizard Tournament! (And btw that was pretty rough, given where the portkey took them.) But given that the NYT cautions viewers about “Brutal child-on-child violence and death,” it’s clearly got it over Harry Potter. And the book is apparently even rougher. Wow.
But it did not occur to me until Cindy Gallop forwarded this article from Wired that I realized that there was a lot more to the Hunger Games hoopla than Elizabeth Banks in creepy funhouse makeup. I must be slipping. Of course there are longer-term implications. This is a female action-heroine lead, and one with a minimum of sexualization to boot. (Ever see this - if male superheroes were clothed as female superheroes? Right.)
And so Hollywood will invariably be wondering who will show up to care about a female action hero who doesn’t need saving, and push this flick into blockbuster territory. Which is where it needs to be in order to get other projects featuring strong leading women greenlit and into production. Which, as we know from the Bechdel Test, is always an uphill battle.
The number that’s being bandied around: $100 million. That’s the opening that will prove that a chick action hero can open a blockbuster. The LATimes thinks it’ll hit it. AdAge has doubts. Thordidn’t, btw, but they still made a movie about Ryan Reynolds in green spandex ($53 million, deemed a success). But, you know, those are dudes.
So, okay, Katniss has to make it to $100 million. Sigh. I guess that means I’ll have to see a chick flick this weekend - because if “chick flick” now means humungous action blockbuster featuring strong decisive women supported by an incredible cast and an unstinting budget…then I volunteer as Tribute.