Jennifer Lawrence Clarifies Comments About Female Action Stars
The internet took glee in dragging Jennifer Lawrence for her comments about playing the “first” female action star in The Hunger Games. Now the award-winning actress is clarifying her words.
During the Variety Actors on Actors discussion with Viola Davis, Lawrence said, “I remember when I was doing Hunger Games, nobody had ever put a woman in the lead of an action movie, because it wouldn’t work, we were told. Girls and boys can both identify with a male lead, but boys cannot identify with a female lead.”
Now, obviously this is untrue. There were other successful female-fronted action movies before The Hunger Games, and people online have mentioned a lot of them. However, in this interview Lawrence was very upfront about feeling insecure regarding her lack of education and her anxiety about doing any kind of press (which, while an interview with a peer, her talk with Davis was still a form of press). As someone who has been critical of Lawrence and her very notable foot-in-mouth syndrome, I think it is possible to address the fact that there were other women who led action movies without jumping to gleefully drag her for an oversight. If the point is to highlight other women, do that. We don’t need to enjoy dragging Katniss to celebrate others. Also, it probably wasn’t helpful that Variety elevated the clip and made her mistake even more obvious.
Lawrence clarified her remarks to The Hollywood Reporter, saying, “That’s certainly not what I meant to say at all. I know that I am not the only woman who has ever led an action film. What I meant to emphasize was how good it feels. And I meant that with Viola — to blow past these old myths that you hear about … about the chatter that you would hear around that kind of thing. But it was my blunder and it came out wrong. I had nerves talking to a living legend.”
What is exhausting about the conversation is that even if we include works like the Alien films, Tomb Raider, the Terminator franchise, Resident Evil, and the films of Michelle Yeoh and Pam Grier—how many of those are action films made by men? How many of those films have only one woman, or a handful of traditionally attractive women in small outfits? Yes, Ripley and Sarah Connor are exceptions, but that’s two? I love Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider, but that doesn’t mean there are not issues with how some of the film is shot for the male gaze?
When The Hunger Games came out, it was one of the rare female-led action movies where the female character was top billed, not hyper-sexualized, and was allowed to be a fully developed character. It doesn’t erase what came before, but it was in stark contrast to its predecessors in terms of critical and financial success with teenagers—especially in the Twilight era. I have no question that Lawrence heard doubts about whether women could lead action movies because, while Sarah Connor and Ripley are icons, we aren’t oversaturated with female action leads, especially ones like them. Every time a female action movie failed it was seen as a massive backslide for women. Films like Æon Flux, Ultraviolet, and even the second Charlie’s Angels movies were received so poorly by critics that it did hinder the development of more serious action films starring women.
I’m not saying we can’t treat Jennifer Lawrence’s gaffe as a teachable moment, but that is different from trying to just tear her down or project intent onto her words. Sometimes people just misspeak, and I’m glad she clarified her remarks since, yes, there are a lot of women who laid the foundation she stands on. But we also need to be better about taking one mistake and blowing it up into soundbites that obscure larger problems, like gender inequality.
Sometimes we do need to touch grass.
(featured image: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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