The Hunger Games, Hollywood and Fighting Fuck Toys

The Hunger Games should serve as a wake-up call to Hollywood that women action-hero movies can be successful if the protagonist is portrayed as a complex subject–instead of a hyper-sexualized fighting fuck toy (FFT).

In its first weekend, The Hunger Games grossed $155 million, making it the third highest opener of all time (behind the last Harry Potter film and The Dark Knight), despite a marketing budget half the size of a typical big-studio, big-budget film. It seized the records for top opener released outside of July, top non-sequel opener and top opener with a woman protagonist. By the second weekend, The Hunger Games had made $251 million in the U.S.—the fastest non-sequel to break the quarter-billion-dollar mark.

While the movie arguably plays up the romance angle more than the books, The Hunger Games is still squarely an action thriller, set in a dystopic future world where teens fight to the death in a reality show.

The Hunger Games’ success is largely based on the wide appeal of its teenage hero, Katniss Everdeen, who makes it through the movie without being sexually objectified once–a rarity in action films. Katniss is a believable, reluctant hero.

Katniss succeeds with audiences where other women heroes have failed because she isn’t an FFT. Fighting fuck toys are hyper-sexualized women protagonists who are able to “kick ass” (and kill) with the best of them–and look good doing it. The FFT appears empowered, but her very existence serves the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer. In short, the FFT takes female agency and appropriates it for the male gaze.

From an ethical standpoint, Hollywood executives should be concerned about the damage girls and women sustain growing up in a society with ubiquitous images of sex objects. But it appears they are not. From a business standpoint, then, they should be concerned about the money they could be making with better women action heroes. But so far, they seem pretty clueless.

Hollywood rolls out FFTs every few years that generally don’t perform well at the box office (think Elektra, Catwoman, Sucker Punch), leading executives to wrongly conclude that women action leads aren’t bankable. In fact, the problem isn’t their sex; the problem is their portrayal as sex objects. Objects aren’t convincing protagonists. Subjects act while objects are acted upon, so reducing a woman action hero to an object, even sporadically, diminishes her ability to believably carry a storyline. The FFT might have an enviable swagger and do cool stunts, but she’s ultimately a bit of a joke.

For a breakdown of why FFTS lack believability and appeal, check out the Escher Girls tumbler or the excellent new documentary Wonder Women! The Untold Story of Female Superheroines.

As Mark Hughes from Forbes.com points out, movie studios artificially limit their profits when they target only male audiences (by, for instance, by portraying women only as FFTs). With the phenomenal success of The Hunger Games, Hollywood can no longer deny the bankability of believable women action leads. Forty percent of the audience for The Hunger Games is male, proving that a kick-ass woman lead who isn’t reduced to a sex object can appeal to all genders. That should put dollar signs in executives’ eyes.

Hollywood is now on a quest to find the next Katniss Everdeen. Whoever she is, the question will be: Do executives know better than to turn her into a fighting fuck toy?

Reprinted from the author’s website.

Comments

  1. You know, until this article I never appreciated how unsexualized Katniss is in the books. It truly is a great thing. There’s nothing wrong with, “I kick ass and look good doing it” in moderation. You shouldn’t have to be ugly to be strong. But, “I kick ass and I don’t care how I look and I probably look horrible because I’m busy SAVING PEOPLE and DESTROYING THINGS” needs to be incorporated too, which Katniss does, which is awesome.

    • I feel like a big problem with many female protagonists is even when they’re funny, confident, smart and daring, they still have to be conventionally attractive. Including well-rounded action girls. I don’t see anything wrong with being attractive, but it still feels isolating that very few female characters don’t look like the standard beauties we see in all the time in media. And it shows sends a message that just as long as you are pretty by societal standards, THEN you can be whatever you want. Just my 2 cents.

  2. Preach.

  3. Since Katniss derives from YA lit, comparing her to the FFTs is a bit apples-to-oranges. A better comparison is with the girl power action heroes like Buffy and Charmed–popular with teens, make and female alike, much like The Hunger Games.

    See http://rebeccahains.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/katniss-everdeen-the-first-post-girl-power-hero/ for more on Katniss as the first post-girl power hero.

  4. This is a great article. Love the FFT. You might like my take on Katniss as well: http://popgoesalicia.com/2012/03/28/katniss-everdeen-girl/

  5. I didn’t realize (or appreciate!) how unsexualized Katniss was in either form of this story! It’s great! She really is a powerful female protagonist, and you can’t argue with numbers. However, I thought the romance was WAY more played up in the books! The movie didn’t really mention it that much. I don’t see why there can’t be a romance and it still be an awesome action movie, because there was, and it still is. Go Katniss!

  6. Why is it good that Katniss is “unsexualized”? Many female characters are hyper-sexualized, but this does not mean that they are unfeminine, it simply means that their womanhood is rigidly constructed. Moreover, I do not find it convincing that any character on a movie screen is unsexualized–they are created for consumption.

  7. My idea for this was making a parody…from the book are for the actors and actress act out but they need to fouse on the main topic of the story is about the brother and sister have a key point,there are some turns and twist to the story but the reality is that not thing goes as planned…but the point of the story is being yourself…and let it be known. Theres many things that is wrong with her life.
    Naming the fault and realizing the main part of the characters are the personality.

  8. Brittany says:

    Uglies…they should make that series…it is wonderful and awesome female lead!

  9. To be fair, even if the movies do tend to up the romantic ante, in the book it is from her perspective and we know where her heart really lies, but she describes all kinds of kissing and cuddling and tenderness, it’s just that she mentions it more in passing between the times of preserving her own life (and then Peeta’s, knowing the people of 12 will hate her if she doesn’t) in the arena (and later outside of it on the Capitol cameras).

    I also noted personally that I find it promising that Suzanne Collins did not have to abbreviate or alter her name in any way and was still able to acquire a heterogenous audience.

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