The Katniss Conundrum: Is She Okay for Kids?

Katniss Everdeen just might be the best female role model ever. I just wish she didn't kill people.

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The Hunger Games Catching Fire
Lionsgate

In case you hadn’t heard, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire opens this weekend, and with it comes the Katniss conundrum for parents. As originally imagined by author Suzanne Collins, the second installment of the trilogy features more kids killing kids, a bloody public flogging and a beloved character being beaten to death with metal-studded gloves.

Obviously, your children stay home.

And then they will miss out on Katniss Everdeen, that rarity in cinema, a strong female lead and an exceptional role model for girls, who might also make a budding boy chauvinist think twice about ever using the phrase “like a girl” in a derogatory way ever again.

Obviously, your children need to see it.

(REVIEWCatching Fire: Slow Burn With a Sizzling Star)

It’s a real dilemma. There is so much to admire about Katniss Everdeen. She’s strong, smart and willing to protect her family (mother and little sister Prim) at any cost, even her own life. She could care less about wedding dresses, makeovers or clothing, unless an outfit makes climbing trees or hunting easier. She’s all about feeding her family. This is not to say that either the books or the movies don’t dwell on the beauty of either the character or the actress playing her (Jennifer Lawrence). But Katniss always feels best when she’s at her most natural, when the “layers of makeup and conditioners and dyes” are gone and the hair on her legs has grown back. She loathes being waxed. She doesn’t get why boys don’t have to do it.

Speaking of boys: Katniss is cool about them too. In the first book and movie, she has to pretend to love her fellow Hunger Games contestant Peeta for strategic reasons. In Catching Fire Katniss starts to feel real attraction to both Peeta and her old hunting partner Gale. She’s not rushing into anything though. When she and Peeta arrive back home at the miserable coal-producing District 12 (think Appalachia), she’s psyched when her mother gives her a respite from the fakery by announcing that Katniss isn’t “old enough to have any boyfriend at all.” Caring for people — and treating them well — is her priority, not being someone’s girlfriend.

Then there is the matter of Jennifer Lawrence, the most refreshingly real and quick-witted actress to come along since Kate Winslet and before her, Julia Roberts. Onscreen as Katniss, she’s a study in courage. Off-screen she’s a 23-year-old Oscar winner who appears incapable of worrying about her weight or treating anyone she encounters with anything but grace and honesty. She might be funnier than she is beautiful. You never know what the future holds, but Lawrence appears to have been genetically engineered to counter every bad trait of celebrities. She’s the kind of role model who ditches the red carpet to hug a fan in a wheelchair without seeming contrived at all. Any parent who has had to explain Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus or Cory Monteith to their child knows that sinking feeling of matching the person they admire onscreen to the hard reality.

(MORETeen-Heroine Smackdown: 5 Ways Katniss Is Better Than Bella)

I’m in an odd position, advocating for Katniss/Lawrence. In March 2012, just as the first installment of the movie franchise was hitting theaters, I wrote an essay for TIME Ideas that argued against bringing elementary-school children to The Hunger Games. Kids fighting each other to the death for sport — and the sick pleasure of a dictatorial government — wasn’t the kind of entertainment I wanted my child to see. I still believe it’s better to wait for them to hit junior high before exposing them to this terrifying concept visually, even if they’ve read and loved the books. The big screen — and this movie features a major IMAX sequence — is too fearsome.

But as a film critic I’ve lamented the dearth of strong female leads in mainstream movies. It’s not just troubling; it is freakish, unrepresentative of life itself. Foreign films and independent films, where a woman can be the lead and/or write and direct the movie, offer a counterweight. The problem is that when you’re helping a kid make entertainment choices, a Nicole Holofcener– or Sofia Coppola–directed film isn’t likely to cut it. (Although, I fell asleep on the couch recently and woke to find my son, who had been seeking a cuddle after a bad dream, gazing raptly at what I’d been watching: The Bling Ring. Now that was terrifying.) If we want our kids to see women doing something other than playing the romantic lead to a man, what do we take them to? For us The Heat was too crude, Gravity too intense. Carrie?! All of a sudden, the movie with a strong female character but a high body count starts to make a strange sort of sense.

Last week I asked my son, who turns 10 this winter, about Catching Fire. Part of that was motivated by curiosity as to whether the massive marketing campaign worked on him: Did he want to go? This wasn’t an offer but more of a query. In the end my son said no way to Catching Fire — too scary. Based on my feelings about this 18 months ago, I should have felt only relief. Instead there was just a touch of disappointment. If and when he changes his mind, likely in a couple of years, I’m going to watch it with him. And I’m going to tell him that there are lots of girls and women out there like Katniss who are powerful and capable. Hollywood, I will tell him, just has trouble seeing them.

WATCH: Kick-Ass Moments from TIME’s Favorite Teen Heroines

9 comments
boycottlove
boycottlove

I think that one of the key aspects, of the movie, at least, is that she is so against what's happening.  In the first movie, yes, she does succumb to the games, but she somewhat plays them with dignity (as much as one can).  Also, the games are portrayed in such a negative light throughout the first two films, not promoting them as positive.  We should also consider the fact that this is a clearly fictional movie made for pleasure and if you don't think your child can handle seeing it, then don't let them see it

Eva_fate
Eva_fate

In the books Katniss is pretty close to a sociopath, and the narrative keeps forcing her to do traditional "girly" things and she keeps going along with it while complaining instead of actually doing anything about it.

Just because a female character kicks butt does not make her "strong."

Buy your kids some Tamora Pierce books. 

sherazadeeslizakarim
sherazadeeslizakarim

I think the character Katniss plays a great role model for people out there. Also this is not the first time a female character is shown as the leading player in the story and it just so happen that this one involves brutality and violence. Moreover, Katniss is the very opposite of the female stereotyping: she possesses over-shining masculine characteristics as being brave, resourceful, and competitive, which are evident in the overall trilogy. The only thing they cannot range away from stereotyping is sexuality, which I find would be very interesting and more diverse.

In case of the children exposure on these two negativities - brutality and violence, I think the moral of the story as well as the image of a young woman, placed in a poor community surviving for her welfare and the many , must not be overshadowed by the fear that they will involve themselves in such actions because in the first place, parents have the responsibility to secure that their children grow up properly and be oriented of the social realities.

jack_k1
jack_k1

Oh, puhlease! Katniss' big conundrum throughout all three books was, "which boy should I pick?" Role model for girls, hardly. 

aprilshowers414
aprilshowers414

It may be a television show, but I think Buffy Summers from Buffy The Vampire Slayer is every bit the role model that Katniss is, but she doesn't kill any humans. And she is certainly willing to so anything possible to protect her friends and family.

run_for_funner
run_for_funner

If you are a parent that has sheltered their kids all their lives? yeah, don't take them to see it. Don't. because they aren't used to it.

IF you are a parent that raised your kid openly, explained things when they come up, point out differences between books/cinema and life, also point out parallels and societal issues - ever since they were born? And you let them read whatever they get their hands on, regardless? And then watch whatever they want regardless? 

Then, you were like my parents. and then your kid can handle it. I read every book I could get my hands on, regardless of the content. I read "For Whom The Bell Tolls" at 8 years old and, probably missed a lot of the historical issues because I just had no idea, but understood the basic problems and issues in the book. I watched a vampire movie when I was 6 and freaked the hell out and saw blood and core, but my parents explained to me what it was beforehand, so I laughed and knew it was just a movie. I wanted to be a vampire every Halloween for 5 years in a row because then I thought they were so bad ass.

If you raise your kids and feed their curiosity and knowledge in the right way, and explain things along the way, there is no need to "hide and shelter them"

SO many children see far worse things in 3rd world countries, in REAL life. so explaining things that are in movies and books is easier than seeing it.

I'm not dissing those who choose to shelter their children - to each their own, and both ways are ways to bring up children, just fine. but I'm just saying, there are plenty of families that can go see these movies together and actually understand it and have a conversation about it. My little sister read the books and dragged my parents along, and my parents LOVED the opportunity to discuss the underlying issues in the movie with her after it - only after being appalled by the kids being killed of course. and do you KNOW who told my parents about the underlying issues? MY LITTLE SISTER. she understood it before they did. and i think that is amazing. and she saw it, because my parents have always challenged our thoughts and perceptions :)

AlexandreGarcia
AlexandreGarcia

No boy will stop saying 'like a girl' because some female character in a movie is strong and kicks butt, just like nerds won't stop being called nerds and made fun of because some movie has tough nerds who kick butt as main characters.
At the end of the day, it's just a movie.
Real life is right before our eyes.

KarlIkelman
KarlIkelman

Of course these books and movies aren't for children. Any child younger than 12 should not be seeing these. However, for teens 12 to 18 who are old enough to understand the themes about reality for entertainment and that dictatorial governments are not acceptable, the books should be required. Besides, it's not like Katniss is the first role model who was forced to kill. The point is that she's not okay with it and she does something about it.