As a teacher it is my duty to introduce my students to films they have not seen, or in some cases may not want to see. As a teacher I believe it is also my duty to watch the films my students watch, whether I want to see them or not. This has proven to be an exciting adventure for me over the years and many of their recommendations find their way into my lectures. In the past few years I have been noting a trend that first perplexed me and now has captured my full attention. This trend is what I am now calling, in non-academic terms, the "you go girl!" films like Twilight, Jennifer's Body, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Hanna, and now The Hunger Games.
I began this conversation publicly in 2008 with a colleague Jocelyn Gonzales on "Studio 360" http://www.studio360.org/people/sheril-antonio/. The show was called "Girls on Film" and I am convinced that I will eventually incorporate this idea into a lecture for my "Anatomy of Difference" class. The entry on the syllabus will probably look like this- "Topic: Young White Female as Other: A close look at deviations from the "norm" via examination of a female character defined as "different" or "other" -- which is not based on race, ethnicity, religion, etc." The film references (or list of clips) would include the films named above as well as some of my older favorites to show a history of similar formulations in classical Hollywood and Independent cinema. That list would include films like Suddenly Last Summer (1959), Lolita (1962), Chinatown (1974), Le Femme Nikita (1990), and Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995).
The course has always had as its goal to help students identify how difference is constructed in films that may be conventional or commercial in form, yet in content challenge accepted notions. I show films that resist customary or accepted notions of "normal" or "other" primarily through textual analysis that focuses on story, character, and the invented cinematic space. In this case I would also argue that these recent films resist traditional gender roles and offer us different forms of cultural analysis albeit in subtext given the explosive nature of these narratives. Twilight gives new meaning to a young girl's decision about who to date; Jennifer's Body ratchet's up the notion of good-girl-gone-bad; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo takes us on a journey from victim to victor; Hanna proves to us that looks can be deceiving; and The Hunger Games, WOW!
The Hunger Games takes place in a world where elements from our collective past and present are tightly woven together to construct a future. This future, not that different from our present, is about the 1% vs. the 99%, control, surveillance, stardom, and my favorite, spectatorship of the reality show genre. In some bizarre way it brings back the notion of a snuff film, and not in the "private" ways explored in films like Strange Days (1995) or 8mm (1999). In this future, barbaric ideas like human sacrifice are mixed with visually stunning forms of ritual and pageantry. Drilling even deeper into the narrative one can also find the dysfunctional family, sycophants, the love triangle, and elements of real humanity.
I have to confess that I have always thoroughly enjoyed action adventure films and have historically been dependent on the male perspective to fully partake of the genre. I am now very conscious of the fact that this has of course changed, not only for me but I presume many other females given this latest trend. These young women, or girls, that have been relegated to the "outsider's" role are exploding on the big screen with some consistency. Whether by personal choice, accident, unfortunate circumstances, or someone's design, these young women are finding themselves in complex and often dangerous or life threatening situations and are taking charge of their destiny in very dramatic, physical, and even non-sexual ways. Watch out!