As fans get ready for the release of Divergent, the first film based on Veronica Roth’s popular novels set in a dystopian Chicago, in a recent piece for Wired, Devon Maloney examines the way dystopic storytelling has morphed and come to rule in recent years.
In a post-Harry Potter world where YA fiction is mega-franchise fodder, feminist sci-fi authors descended from the Atwood school—albeit with decidedly less sexual themes—have produced some of the most popular books of the past decade, nearly all primarily geared toward young adult readers. Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy—the harbinger of the dystopian YA craze—has put approximately 65 million copies into circulation in the U.S. alone; the first two movie adaptations have already grossed more than $800 million together domestically (and the third book, Mockingjay, will be adapted into two films over the next few years, making the franchise a multibillion-dollar machine). There’s Lauren Oliver’s Delirium trilogy, and Marie Lu’s Legend, and of course, Veronica Roth’s Divergent.
But though on the surface it would seem that feminism is one of the ruling factors, there’s more at play here than even that. Perspective is one factor. The current wave of successful “dystopian” books and movies “are being judged by a dystopian standard that hasn’t really evolved to meet an era in which dystopia is all around us. These books succeed largely because, unlike the traditional understanding of the genre … they offer hope to the young living in our real-life dystopia, where there’s rarely optimism to be found.”
And there are other factors, including the fact that the audience this media is aimed at is constantly in flux and, maybe even more importantly, vital, new voices can have something genuinely fresh to say:
But through the cries of market saturation and copy-paste plotting, the people behind this newest vision of young gloom remain (perhaps obligatorily) optimistic. “A lot of people said ‘sword-and-sandal’ was completely dead, but then we did Gladiator,” says Divergent producer Douglas Wick. “People said vampire stories were dead before Twilight. People said you couldn’t revive Batman and then Chris Nolan came along. There’s always some genuinely creative person, not a duplicator, who can make something fresh again.”
Meanwhile the Neil Burger-directed film based on Roth’s first novel is scheduled for to be released this coming Friday. The cast includes Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Zoë Kravitz, Ansel Elgort and Kate Winslet.
Maloney’s full piece is here.