So we’re seeing more and more YA novels making it to the big screen these days. YA novels that all sport female mains at that. And it should all be a wonderful thing, right? Because it portrays these strong, complex female characters and reaches out to potential new readers? And sure, I’ve been one of those people who ended up reading the book after seeing the movie of Divergent and really liking it.
But reading the book showed me one thing: adaptions of YA books really do screw some shit up. Seriously. To the point that after reading Divergent, I think that the movie adaption is actually pretty shitty. Sure, it’s a good, entertaining movie that is a thousand times better than the movie adaption of City of Bones could ever hope to be. But it is nonetheless a very inaccurate representation of the book.
There are several things that irk me about these movie adaptations so I’m going to try and do it in short sections instead of an over-long rant! I’ll mainly be discussing the movie adaptations of The Hunger Games, Divergent, and City of Bones (with smaller mentions of the Percy Jackson and Harry Potter series).
The portrayal of the female main
Now I can only really judge this from Divergent and City of Bones as I haven’t read the Hunger Games (and doubt I ever will, as I intensely dislike the Battle Royal set up of the books) but I do have a few things to say about the second Percy Jackson movie.
Now I really liked Tris from the Divergent movie. I thought she was strong and conflicted and really, really cool. But then I read the book. And facepalmed really hard. One of the things that bugged me the most was that the second she gets into Dauntless in the movie, she starts wearing tight-fitting, collarbone-revealing tops. Um, no, movie makers. Tris sticks to baggier clothes unless forced into a dress by Christina or until towards the later half of the book when she gets a boyfriend and starts to feel slightly more confident in how she looks.
Because, you know, that’s the thing with Tris, she really isn’t all that confident in how she looks. She doesn’t think she can ever look pretty and the Abnegation upbringing she’s had has seriously damaged her capacity to see herself as anything special. The movie steals that struggle from her. It also steals a lot more from her. It takes away her darker side, when she beats the crap out of Molly in the book. Instead, in the movie they replace darkness with…weakness?…powerlessness? when she ends up being beaten badly herself. In the movie I was convinced that her fight with Molly would be the first she’d win. It made sense, so in the movie I was really taken aback when she lost. In the book, however, Tris rules that fight, fueled by all the anger of the bullying she has been victim of (something I’ll come back to in another section) and she has to be pulled off Molly because she is in a blind rage at the other girl.
But Tris can’t possibly be portrayed as being violent, or dark, or anything that so many people still think girls can’t/shouldn’t be. So instead they brush those things under the carpet and try to pretend they weren’t there in the first place. Another thing that falls in the category of ‘girls shouldn’t be like that so let’s take it out’ is the fact that after a week of training at the Dauntless HQ, Tris can no longer easily fit in her trousers: she has put on too much muscle. Movie Tris doesn’t really put any muscle on at all, despite long days of gruelling training and a radical change in diet (she has probably never had so much protein in her life, it’s bound to affect her body!). But I can sort of imagine movie makers deciding that they couldn’t have this muscular and strong female main because, you know, that’s not what girls are supposed to be like….So you can start to see where my problem comes from: on the one side we have Book Tris, conflicted, intelligent, strong yet vulnerable, kind yet with darkness inside her, wanting to prove herself…etc. On the other side, however, Movie Tris suddenly starts to look a lot less multi-dimensional. Yes, she’s intelligent and kind, but where is her darkness, her physical strength, her inner conflicts in regards to her family and her choice of faction? Let’s not even go there with how her fear of relationships is basically portrayed as her fear of having sex in the movie, whereas it is a far more complicated issue in the book, something that cannot just be resolved through some cuddling with Four but by, you know, actually talking with him.
Clary, from City of Bones, gets a far worse deal then Tris (and we agree hers was pretty bad, don’t we?). Now this time, when turning up at the cinema, I had already read the book. I should have been really excited, right? I wasn’t, if I’m honest. The trailers and teaser pictures had already made me fear the worse. Or at least I thought they had, because the movie was a thousand times worse than I thought it would be. But for now, let’s focus on Clary. First things first, Clary has red hair. Natural bright ginger red hair. Not this kinda dyed red, but really more dark than anything else hair that Lily Evans has in the movie. Because we all know red hair is too different and not attractive enough, right? /facepalm. And that’s just the start. Clary, does not, at any point in the first book wear Shadowhunter gear. Not once. So why is it practically all she’s in after a point in the movie??? Oh, I get it, it’s because it’s all leather and sexy, right? And I guess it goes better with Lily Evans’ permanently pouty lips and bedroom eyes than normal clothes would. I mean, after all we couldn’t possibly have a heroine on the big screen wearing a sailor top and a long skirt, that’s not fashionable, let’s face it.
Book Clary and Movie Clary have next to nothing in common. Book Clary is a geek who likes anime, and Movie Clary is…honestly I have no idea. The characterisation in that movie was SO BAD, that all the characters are precious little more than painfully sexualised cardboard cut-outs wandering around without any apparent aim. At least in Divergent all that really sexualised Tris was their insistance of sticking her in tighter clothing. And even that wasn’t that big a deal compared to what Lily Evans and the directors of City of Bones did to Clary. I really felt that her character was betrayed, beyond betrayed even to the point where it was erased. She may well be supposed to be the main character of the movie but Movie Clary shows none of the resourcefulness, cleverness, wittiness, geekiness, that her Book counterpart has. I mean, they even steal the demon kill from her to hand it to, oh yeah, the male main…. I take it we all facepalmed again, right? Apparently, the people behind the movie of City of Bones went one step further than the people who did Divergent. Becauce, after all, when your heroine is in Dauntless, you can’t exactly go and steal ALL her strength away. But of course, if your heroine is just a normal girl, it’s obvious she’s going to need a boy to save her, right? No. A thousand, burning nos. Clary kicks ass from the start of City of Bones in the book and when she didn’t get to kill that demon in the movie I was ready to throw my popcorn at the screen and leave the cinema (and I really, really wish I had because it only got worse from there).
Are you raging yet? Because I am, and I’ve been through these things a thousand times in my head and the rage and anger I feel still hasn’t abated.
Movie Clary is flaky and weak and everything that Book Clary isn’t and I really have absolutely no idea how they intend to even try and adapt City of Ashes to the big screen when they screwed up her character (and everybody else’s too for that matter) so pathetically. Really, it’s kinda like the directors were trolling the fans of the books and seeing just how much they could ruin the heroine we all love. Either that or they are just too stupid to see what they have done…
But Clary and Tris aren’t the only girls to undergo a makeover from book to movie. Although I can’t judge from the books, as I said above, I have heard from third parties about changes Katniss undergoes. I have no idea whether there are any personality/psychological changes in her character from book to movie but Katniss loses her ethnicity in between both, something I will come back to at a later point. Annabeth, from the Percy Jackson series is another victim of how women are represented in movie. Set aside for a second the fact that Annabeth should have been 12/13 in the first movie, and therefore only a year older in the second, and let’s look instead of how much she changed from movie 1 to 2. Annabeth goes from being strong, smart, and independant, to someone who suddenly seems to entirely depend on Percy and the rest of the boys for her survival. She goes from leather jackets to pink denim ones, to being a really cool female character to becoming just a shadow of her own self. And I know from looking into the books that that is NOT how Annabeth is. Percy does not win her over after book 1, he has a hell of a lot more work to do to prove himself to her. But Hollywood couldn’t possibly have the hero not get the girl. And obviously, once the girl has become the girlfriend, there is less of a need to make her look kickass because she has a boy to look after her, right? Siiiiiiiigh. I think Annabeth from the books might be considering jumping out of the pages to kick their arses, if her mother doesn’t do it first!
So overall, it’s painfully obvious that when YA genre books make the big jump from words to big screen, it’s far from necessarily a good thing. Forced through the sexist cinema industry, our heroines come out of the other end sometimes hardly resembling the girls they had been in the first place. Hollywood forces girls into the mold of ‘what girls should be’ (which is a mold made of a pile of sexist bollocks) and doesn’t give a shit if it means they have to bend and break the story to make them fit. And sadly, for the most part they still get away with it.
Of course girls aren’t the only ones who suffer when Hollywood gets ahold of their characters, and boys go through the same sexist machine. So I’ll be looking at the boy main characters next time and seeing how much they suffer too.