It wasn’t an especially great year for women in film until we got to November and then it was amazing. With The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Gravity, Philomena and even Frozen came in fast and strong and showed us that female protagonists can lead great films and bring in a lot of money. About-Face, a site that helps women and girls look at the negative and harmful portrayals of women in the media, through a smart and protective lens, rated The Hunger Games: Catching Fire as deserving of all their awards. Here is why that film deserves this title.
First of all, the film made a ton of money on its opening weekend. Yes, films are supposed to be art but with these blockbusters a lot of it is about money. And when a film with a female protagonist can put butts in the seats it is a huge deal. That is why Bridesmaids was such a big deal. That film was a gamechanger for women in film even though women have been entertaining and funny forever. “For 10 years, people were really afraid that there wasn’t an audience for an R-rated female-centric comedy,” says Bachelorette writer/director Leslye Headland. “(Bridesmaids) proved that there was. I think it will get hundreds of movies made.” Not only did Bridesmaids make $288 million worldwide but it also earned two Oscar nominations. According to Hollywood Reporter writer David Friendly the Bridesmaids effect resulted in all the major film studios asking “Where’s our Bridesmaids?!” and a legion of spinoffs such as Bachelorette, Pitch Perfect and The Heat. In the last few years we have also seen more television shows starring women and created by women such as New Girl, The Mindy Project and Super Fun Night.
However money isn’t the only reason Catching Fire was a major success. It is also because it highlighted a bevy of female characters. Of course, Katniss who is a rarity to see on screen as she is strong, fights her own battles and in her relationship with Peeta, she often takes on the more manly characteristics. We also saw her sister, Primrose, who was so weak in the first film, show her strengths. Then we also saw a new sympathetic side of Effie which means her character is evolving. Then Mags, the elderly woman from District 4, also showed such a sense of wiseness and quiet strength. And of course, we finally got to see a real ball-buster with Johanna Mason (Jena Malone) who told The Capitol where they could shove it. She was very refreshing.
What really makes Catching Fire stand out is when you see the context for women in film. According to data from The New York Film Academy:
- More than a quarter of female actors get partially naked on screen in the top 500 films from 2007-2012; less than 10% of male actors do.
- Those movies had an average of 2.25 men for every woman.
- When a woman directs, there’s a 10% increase in women on screen, but there are 5 men in the film industry for every woman.
- The top 16 single-film paychecks all went to men.
- More than three quarters of Oscars voters are men; four times as many men were nominated for Oscars in 2013.
Think about some of the films that came out this year. Spring Breakers literally featured four young women in their bikinis throughout the entire film. Or in Star Trek: Into Darkness which had actress Alice Eve do a gratuitous strip down for absolutely no reason? That is why films like this are so important and we need to recognize them so the studios keep making them. And even though Katniss has been put in a rather (and hopefully) unrelatable situation, she herself is a relatable character. About-Face wrote of Katniss, “[She] is just a girl. She is you. She is me. She is any girl or woman brave enough to think for herself and fight for what she believes in.” That is what we need to see on screen. Not the woman with superhuman powers or the model or the klutz. Actress Natalie Portman spoke of this recently. “The fallacy in Hollywood is that if you’re making a ‘feminist’ story, the woman kicks ass and wins,” she told Elle UK in the magazine’s November issue. “That’s not feminist, that’s macho. A movie about a weak, vulnerable woman can be feminist if it shows a real person that we can empathize with.”
We need to keep putting women on the screen that are reflections of real women, which means different ages, different ethnicities, different strengths and flaws and all. Those are the best stories.