Who'd have thought? Not me when I went to see The Hunger Games last Friday night (in a sauna-like atmosphere thanks to bung air-conditioning at the Berkeley Cinemas, Mission Bay).
A long-time fan of alternative societal frameworks, I was very keen to see this movie. I loved Logan's Run on television, Lord of the Flies and even the poorly reviewed movie The Island. I also have a soft spot for the whole idea of Big Brother and the reality television phenomenon taken to its extreme (Nineteen Eighty-four and The Truman Show). The Hunger Games was my kind of flick.
Yet it was only afterwards that I realised that feminist principles came into play. A post at The Hand Mirror blog pointed out the heroine's athleticism, strength, courageousness and prowess at hunting. Because these attributes are typically associated with men, Katniss Everdeen was shattering stereotypes about girls being helpless and passive in a way that could only be positive for the predominantly young-teen female audience.
A New York Times review by Manohla Dargis said: "Again and again Katniss rescues herself with resourcefulness, guts and true aim." But the sense of girl power was diminished when the same reviewer turned her attention to the physique of actress Jennifer Lawrence who plays Katniss; evidently "her seductive, womanly figure makes a bad fit for a dystopian fantasy about a people starved into submission."
In the comments section, Genna from Seattle said: "Let's stick to reviewing the realistic-ness of women's acting, rather than their waistlines." BK, Los Angeles, agreed: "I sure wish the Times would stop reviewing women's bodies."
Indeed Dargis' assertion was unconvincing on a couple of levels. Firstly, as an accomplished hunter, Katniss was able to supplement her family's meagre diet with the meat of small woodland animals so emaciation is not strictly required.
Secondly, and more importantly, Lawrence's body is just fine the way it is. I'll admit that I have been known to assess the occasional actress' build. I can't see Keira Knightley's protruding collarbones without wanting to feed her up with macaroni cheese and I always admire Kate Winslet for daring to thumb her nose at the skinny conventions of Hollywood.
So I'm certainly not immune to passing judgement on the body shape of a leading actress. But in The Hunger Games, Lawrence was neither too thin, nor too fat. She was just right. I say this because never once in 142 minutes (and she was on screen virtually the entire time) did I experience anything resembling a Knightley or a Winslet moment. And since Lawrence is now the heroine of young girls everywhere that has to be a good thing. To me at least, her body was just a fact, a tool, a vehicle for all she needed to achieve. It's body acceptance at its most pure.
And while reviewers and commentators alike are inclined to dwell on issues such as Katniss' body shape (too feminine?) and personal traits (too masculine?), the majority of them gloss over what is surely most worthy of close inspection - the fact that The Hunger Games centres on a gladiatorial contest in which children must kill other children or be killed by them. The US censors call it "[b]rutal child-on-child violence and death". So, let me see. That means we have children watching a movie about children killing children - and that doesn't seem quite right.