On The Hunger Games and Market-Driven Ghettoization of Film
Full disclosure: I was one of the Team Katniss faithful who flocked to the movie theaters late last evening to make The Hunger Games a resounding box-office success. The crowd at the particular theater at which I saw it was mostly comprised of groups of young people in their late teens to mid 20s with a few tween families to round it out. What also interested me was that the most vocal fans, i.e. the ones who jabbered the most about the book before and after the film, were young men.
Before the movie was released, the studio responsible for it, Lionsgate apparently hand-wrung over its appeal to boys and men. This is not an uncommon occurrence with films that do not feature a cisgender, straight, white male person as its protagonist. It is assumed that people who are transgender, not straight, non-white, not male, or any combination of the above should be able to relate to the mainstream default position, but that to ask those who embody that position to relate to a protagonist unlike themselves is to ask for too much.
For example, a funny movie featuring mostly white men is a comedy and is thus marketed to everyone, while a similar flick featuring mostly black actors is a “black comedy” and marketed only in select ways.
The excuse for such ghettoization — in the case of The Hunger Games, that a female protagonist is unrelatable for male audiences — is The Numbers, with which no one is ever allowed to argue. The fact that they are usually the target audience and thus assume that anything not marketed towards them isn’t for them might have something to do with it.
Lionsgate, admirably, has made attempts to market the film towards men as well as women. While I would prefer that we not assume that men don’t have the capacity to appreciate a nuanced female protagonist, the way in which the film is portrayed in trailers and advertising does help to combat the assumption that featuring a heroine does not necessarily mean that the movie in question is not for men.
The data before the movie showed that nearly half of the young men polled were interested in seeing The Hunger Games, as opposed to nearly three-quarters of young women. There was still a gap, clearly, but one that still puts the majority of young people in the “interested” category.
Of course, women don’t have the luxury that men have in terms of only seeing movies that are marketed towards us or feature us. Blatantly sexist advertising aside, most movies don’t even feature two named female protagonists who converse about something besides a man. Hopefully, movies like The Hunger Games, which interest men and women alike in a female protagonist and aren’t bizarre remakes or unnecessary sequels (emphasis on unnecessary, as I am acutely aware that there are three more movies in this series), will mean more movies that not only feature fully-fleshed-out female characters, but that also allow people in different demographic groups to enjoy movies together.
The applause that erupted in the wee hours at theaters across the country certainly gives me some hope.