The Hunger Games is out now in cinemas. It’s a film based on a book that apparently is wild popular among teenage girls. A lot of people have likened it to the next Twilight.
I, as a guy who’s read both book series, am here to tell you that no, no, that’s wrong, man!
See, Katniss is a great example of a Good Female Protagonist. Bella, eh, not so much. At all.
It’s really weird. After all these years we still freak out and go “Holy crap guys, it’s a Good Female Protagonist!” when we see her in a movie that’s not targeted at women. It’s as if she’s a quaint little oddity you find in only the most obscure media.
Not that movies are helping. Bella, of Twilight, is an example of an absolutely horrible horrible character (female or otherwise). Yes, this is a film/book targeted at girls, but that’s not an excuse.
She is entirely reactionary. Her personality revolves around what happens around her. It’s always “if they, then”. The love triangle in the latter bits seem to be dependent on who she’s with. Bella has no motivations, no desires beyond, well, get with a guy.
Again, and this is an oddly appropriate point to stress, I have read these books. I know what I’m talking about.
And Katniss of The Hunger Games? She causes the action. Her involvement in the game is of her own volition. Although she has little control over her situations and what life hands her she very much controls what she does in each situation. She’s not reactionary or passive, Her pattern is “if I then”.
As for the love triangle that’s garnered an unfortunate amount of press? Katniss lacks the flippancy of Bella. Furthermore the triangle is interwoven with the books’ themes as a whole (which is a testament to good overall writing beyond characterization, which in turn is not the focus of this essay).
It’s more than clear that Katniss is a whole different breed of protagonist: she thinks, plans, and connives. She knows exactly what she wants and she strives to achieve it. She has a personality.
Through all this I find it important to point out that, besides Katniss, there are fantastic, well developed, interesting female protagonists. Interestingly enough, they can be found where you’d least expect it: Video Games.
Hear me out. I know video games tend to present women as caricatures to cater to their demographic, but there are exceptions. And these are good.
Final Fantasy XIII (which isn’t the 12th sequel but— it’s complicated) had, for the first time, a woman as the main character. Lightning wasn’t hyper-sexualized (as other characters in the series have been) and her gender never came up as an issue. She had her dreams and wishes; she had her obstacles to overcome.
The writers have said that when writing Lightning they just wrote her as if she was a man. I’m not sure whether that undercuts everything I’ve said, or is just an interesting aside.
So what’s a good example? What’s my favorite example? No, not Pepper Potts and Black Widow in the Iron Man movies (though they do count), I’m going back to video games again.
Elena Fisher and Chloe Frazer are the two girls in Uncharted 2. Both women are strong, independent, know what they want and how to get it. They’re more than plot devices or eye candy. They have characterization, they develop as the story progresses, they change. They’re actual people.
When asked why he insists on writing strong female characters, Joss Whedon (guy behind Firefly) quipped: “because you’re still asking me that question”. It’s unfortunate that they are still so rare. But they’re out there; be they named Katniss, Lightning, or Elena. We can just hope that trend follows that set by The Hunger Games rather than that of Twilight.
So go watch The Hunger Games, money speaks after all.
Writer’s Note: Yes, I know I’ve left out other great examples. This was written at about one in the morning and I didn’t feel like sussing them out. Forgive me.
Also, I know that you may not be familiar with these characters from FFXIII or Uncharted. Just google “Uncharted Cutscene Elena” or something. Or take my word on it.