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Elizabeth Perle

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Hollywood's Hunger Games

Posted: 03/26/2012 10:15 pm

What I wouldn't have given to have been a fly on the wall when they cast The Hunger Games. The way I'd like to picture it in my mind is Gary Ross and Suzanne Collins sitting at a table, Gary saying, "So, Jennifer Lawrence?" and Suzanne saying, "Well, duh."

Apparently, this fantasy is not universal, and some people don't agree that Jennifer Lawrence conjures up the exact picture of the Katniss they know from the books.

But it's not Lawrence's acting chops that are called into question -- quite the opposite; she's almost universally praised for her ability to evoke the inner life of this complex, dark character. But there's something else about this award-winning actress that critics are evaluating and finding wanting: her weight.

Reviewers have commented on Lawrence's "womanly figure," her "baby fat," and even implied she is a bad physical representation of "people starved into submission."

So, I can't help but wonder if they actually think Lawrence doesn't portray Katniss correctly or if they're upset she doesn't portray the ideal we are all so used to seeing when young women star in blockbuster action films -- that of the quite literally starving actress.

Had hunger had nothing to do with Katniss's poverty in the movie, the disturbing truth is that Jennifer Lawrence's figure would likely still have been a point of criticism. Had Gary Ross cast someone as Katniss who looked emaciated, would the audience really have approved because it made her look more downtrodden -- or because it made her look more attractive?

As L.V. Anderson on Slate.com puts it: "Just as living in a world with abundant calories does not automatically make everyone fat, living in a dystopian world like Panem with sporadic food access would not automatically make everyone skinny. Some bodies, I daresay, would be even bigger than Lawrence's."

Moreover, whether or not Gary Ross's Katniss is actually starving is not made clear -- and it's also beside the point. The Hunger Games movie refocuses our attention from the symptom -- hunger -- to its root cause: poverty. Gary Ross does not focus on starvation as a stronger visual marker than anything else, which includes the clothing, physical labor, and dilapidated architecture of District 12. In fact, for all the times we see Katniss and Peeta sitting down for a meal in The Capitol, we barely see them touch their food, and the gluttony of the city is most powerfully depicted through the spectacle of its technology and its inhabitants' extravagant lifestyles.

I think the casting of Jennifer Lawrence was excellent because it meant they prioritized acting ability over body-type. Lawrence, though conventionally beautiful and -- yes -- very thin, does not embody the dangerous anorexic ideal we often see in our most fetishized female stars. In terms of the number of body-positive role models there are for young girls to look up to in the entertainment industry, the odds are already not in their favor -- let's not tear down one of the few they've finally been given.

 
 
 

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