I'm holding out for a hero. You know, the usual requirements: strong, fast, fresh from the fight. Maybe someone who's brave and loyal and down with killing a few people if that's what it takes. Gender no object. Have you seen anyone fitting that description lately? Maybe someone with excellent hunting skills and a penchant for combustible costumes?
I mention this because the MTV Movie Awards are coming up next month, and the folks over at the network seem to have completely forgotten that Katniss Everdeen was one of the past year's biggest movie heroes. Though Jennifer Lawrence's turn in "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" is nominated for Best Female Performance, when it comes to MTV's nominees for "Best Hero," Henry Cavill's Clark Kent and Martin Freeman's Bilbo Baggins made the cut, but somehow the sweetheart of District 12 was ignored. Fans have now started a petition asking the network to rectify its snub.
All things considered, MTV doesn't have the world's worst record on recognizing strong women in movies. Female butt kickers like Jessica Alba's Sue Storm and Anne Hathaway's Catwoman have made the hero nominees cut in the past. In 2011, MTV declared Chloë Grace Moretz the year's "Biggest Badass Star" for "Kick-Ass," beating out the likes of Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. and Karate Kid Jaden Smith. And in 2012, it even did nominate Lawrence, who inevitably lost out to Daniel Radcliffe's Harry Potter swan song. And MTV's "Best Fight" winners almost always include women, from Uma Thurman in "Kill Bill" to Scarlett Johansson among "The Avengers" to yes, Jennifer Lawrence in "The Hunger Games." The show itself even just last year had a female host – the righteous Rebel Wilson.
But the conspicuous absence of Lawrence on the list of potential MTV movie heroes stings, especially coming less than two weeks after the Academy Awards celebrated cinematic heroes in a montage that Vulture noted "had 82 shots of men and only 13 of women (not including robots)." And as the petition author Sophie Azran reminds MTV, "Young women already have too few female heroes represented in film and television… We're constantly shown by the entertainment industry that men are brave, powerful, or successful, while women are often given supporting roles and weak characters." This is the water in which we all swim. Funnily enough, when today I looked up synonyms for "hero" on my computer, the top two entries were "brave man" and "male protagonist." Try a little harder, thesaurus.
No one's asking MTV to pretend that there are an equal number of traditional "hero" roles for women as there are for men. For every Katniss, there are a dozen Thors and Batmen and Captain Americas. And no one's imagining that the MTV Awards, a production that features a "Best Scared-As-S—t Performance" and a "Best #WTF Moment," is exactly setting the bar for cinematic excellence. But what we look at, what we reward – these things say what our priorities are. Women already get exponentially less screen time than men -- and when they are shown in movies, they're often taking off their clothes. It's just about giving attention where attention is due.
MTV doesn't have much influence over the movies that are made or which ones are successful, but it can improve in setting its priorities, and acknowledging a bona fide cinematic hero when they see one. When networks and awards shows respect women, studios and audiences are likelier to do so as well. And if MTV can recognize Clark Kent as a hero, surely it should be able to notice a girl on fire as well.