With the impending release of the highly anticipated The Hunger Games: Catching Fire this November, Salt Lake Comic Con took the opportunity to discuss the importance of the strong female protagonist. In a world where Bella Swan and Anastasia Steele are more recognizable than Sarah Connor, what place does a strong female character have in this new age?
On the panel titled "From Ripley to Buffy to Katniss: The Strong Female Protagonist", this question was analyzed deeply and passionately.
Actress Elizabeth Knowelden (End of the Road), Tumble Creek Press creative director Dani Dixon, comic book author John Steiner (Squad V), author Eric James Stone (In Memory), and author Peter J. Wacks (Second Paradigm) were present on Saturday, discussing what has changed and what needs to change in books and movies in the post-Twilight age where audiences now have fallen in love with both The Hunger Games and Fifty Shades of Grey.
"If anything, female characters have gotten weaker," Wacks weighed in first. "I hate Katniss! She is passive, and doesn't make her own decisions."
Dickson, while agreeing to a degree, came to Katniss's defense. "In Katniss's world, she was not unique. Other young women were just as strong, and so the field was more level. She was not like Buffy, who was extraordinary."
Steiner, who I got to speak with at great length before the panel, states that female protagonists have been around for a lot longer than we give them credit for. "If you think about it, Mulan is one of the first strong female protagonists. Going beyond what Disney showed us, Mulan took charge, showed no fear, and eventually died in battle. How bad-ass is that?"
Eventually, the question of the femininity of the character came in to play. Does the female protagonist need to be sexually appealing or have a romance within the book or movie to work?
"Ripley owned my heart at 12," Steiner admitted. "She may not be typically sexy, but she held her own against other military men, and she never seemed out of place among them. Her ability to kick ass is what I found sexy."
"There is a whole spectrum of traits," Stone followed up with. "No man is 100 percent masculine just like no woman is 100 feminine. The character needs to be well-rounded with a wide variety of traits. The character needs to be an individual."
So, in the end, what makes a female character strong? Unique? What makes her stand out? As it turns out, it's the character's actions.
"Sarah Connor starts as a normal waitress," Stone said, "but rises to the occasion when things turn violent. It's not Kyle who kills The Terminator -- it's Sarah Connor!"
Wacks brought the topic back to the name that's become synonymous with the strong female protagonist. "Buffy is not extraordinary because of her powers," Wacks explained. "She's extraordinary because she chose to leave her life or normalcy to rise to the occasion."
So what's next on the horizon? While Lena Duchannes and Clary Fray aren't exactly the best examples of strong female characters, Fifty Shades of Grey (which started as Twilight erotic fan fiction, by the way) is selling more and more, and less than 10 percent of filmmakers and producers are women, how can a strong female protagonist survive?
"I feel that, secretly, studio heads want to make movies with strong female leads," Steiner said. "It's really contingent on which ticket the audience chooses to buy. If more films with strong female leads sold better, more films like that would be made."