Is Jennifer Lawrence right for Katniss and can cinema do the female heroine justice?


With yesterday’s big casting news of Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, we’re one step closer to having another great literary heroine hit the big screen. The search for Katniss had been a highly contested one, with several of the industry’s best up-and-coming actresses vying for the part. Now that Lawrence has won out, the second guessing has begun. Is Lawrence right for the role? Will Hollywood do the beloved young-adult series justice? Wait, why is Katniss blond?

Response since the news became official has been a combination of excitement about Lawrence’s acting skills and displeasure that she doesn’t fit the description from the novels. Lawrence, who has long been rumored to be a frontrunner for the role, is certainly older than Katniss. At 20, she is already four years older than Katniss at the start of The Hunger Games trilogy.

And, let’s be honest, Jennifer doesn’t exactly have Katniss’ straight black hair, olive skin and gray eyes. Of course, hair dye can help with the former and contacts with the latter. But the olive skin part and the book’s vagueness about Katniss being mixed race cannot. Katniss is also more frail and malnourished than Jennifer appears.

On the plus side, Jennifer can act. Anyone who saw her in Winter’s Bone knows this without a shadow of a doubt and her Academy Award nomination was well deserved. What she does bring to the part is the necessary power and determination. Like in Winter’s Bone, she would be fighting for her and her people’s survival. Her silent ability to project resilience and strength will serve her well in the post-apocalyptic world of the Hunger Games.

The book’s author, Suzzane Collins, seems pleased with the casting. She released a statement yesterday that read:

Jennifer’s just an incredible actress. So powerful, vulnerable, beautiful, unforgiving and brave. I never thought we’d find somebody this perfect for the role. And I can’t wait for everyone to see her play it.

The film’s director, Gary Ross, said choosing Lawrence was the “the easiest casting decision of my life.” In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, the man behind the camera for Seabiscuit and Pleasantville assured worried fans that he talked with Collins about both Lawrence’s age and look, and the author signed off and encouraged his pick. He said after seeing Lawrence in Winter’s Bone and meeting her, he knew she was the one. He told EW:

She’s a very powerful person. Jennifer is from Kentucky. I think she feels such a complete connection to who Katniss is, the way many people do, but this just seems like a very good fit to her. I think she’s very confident about the role, I think it feels very organic to her. She’s ready to dive in. She goes to archery class next week. Yeah, she’s going to start shooting arrows next week! I think by the end of the week she’s going to be learning to climb trees. She’s a very strong, confident young woman. She’s very confident in her own talent and who she is as a woman, and I think that all these things make her want to dive into the role.

The list of actresses Lawrence beat out was long. They included 14-year-old True Grit star Hailee Steinfeld, 16-year-old Atonement star Saoirse Ronan, 14-year-old Kick-Ass star Chloe Moretz, 24-year-old Nikita star Lyndsy Fonseca, 22-year-old Sucker Punch star Emily Browning and 19-year-old Skins star Kaya Scodelario.

Before casting was finalized, I was personally rooting for Lawrence’s fellow Oscar nominee Steinfeld. Anyone who saw her in True Grit knows she indeed has grit and resolve. But I’m confident enough in Lawrence’s acting skills that she can pull it off well.

The next big casting question is Katniss’ childhood friend and Hunger Games tribute Peeta Mellark. Actors rumored to be up for the role include Weeds star Hunter Parrish, Beastly star Alex Pettyfer and The Kids Are All Right star Josh Hutcherson. According to E! Online, Parrish is the current frontrunner.

Before she picks up her bow and arrow, Lawrence can be seen in X-Men: First Class, the origin story to the X-Men superheroes coming out in June. She will play Raven Darkholme/Mystique. And she can also be seen in the Jodie Foster/Mel Gibson man-and-his-puppet movie The Beaver which just debuted this week at SXSW.

Of course, love or hate her casting, The Hunger Games represents an amazing opportunity for a young actress and a welcome new female hero to the cinematic canon. The Hunger Games could be the tentpole to a great female-fronted franchise. Lawrence has been optioned for the two next novels as well, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

The filmmakers are certainly wasting no time. Production is starting next month in North Carolina and the film is slated for release next March.

So, what do you think? Is Lawrence the Katniss you envisioned? And, even if not, do you think she can still pull off the role?

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