Hit Girl Could Be Your New Favorite Tween

March 9, 2010
By | 12 Comments

A foul-mouthed 12-year-old girl assassin? Sounds awesome. She’s Hit Girl, a supporting character in an upcoming Lionsgate film, Kick-Ass, a comic book adaptation set to hit theaters April 15. Played by 12-year-old Chloe Moretz, Hit Girl and Big Daddy (Nicolas Cage) are a father-daughter crime-fighting duo who, well, kick some ass. But, after watching the trailer, I find myself conflicted about Hit Girl (and it’s not just because of Nicolas Cage). Warning: the red band trailer below is NSFW.

On the one hand…
It’s a tween girl kicking ass. Hit Girl adds a welcome complication to a representation category full of kid sister supporting roles, pop star princesses, and mallrat mean girls. Disney executives once referred to Hannah Montana as their version of

"I can't see through walls, but I can kick your ass."

a super hero for girls; someone who was normal by day but extraordinary by night. Hit Girl is in so many ways a much cooler female superhero. Why should boys be the only ones for whom “superhero” means physical action and beating up bad guys?  Clearly Hit Girl isn’t necessarily meant for young girls, given her language and the film’s R rating (among other things),  but Hit Girl is definitely in the running to become my favorite tween. Sill, the comments section on sites like Cinematical or FirstShowing.net that debuted the Hit Girl trailer in December are filled with people claiming they “can’t wait to take their daughter to see it.” So , Kick-Ass might have the potential for cool father-(older) daughter time in certain families.  In addition, though, I also kind of like that it plays with notions of an idealized childhood and grays the line between ‘adult’ and ‘child’ in entertainment. Some critics have already come out to sound the alarm about blurring these lines, raising the familiar concern about  kids and violence in media, but to me, that points to our increased tendency to think that if a media text features a child of any kind, we often automatically think it should be child- or family-friendly fare, and should thus be safely contained in carefully constructed norms of saccharine representations and prosocial narratives. But the irony and shock factor in the image of a foul-mouthed tween girl assassin can be fun for adults, and that’s part of the appeal.

On the other hand…
While watching a fictional 12 year-old girl cussing and killing villains can be ironic and fun in destabilizing the innocence of childhood, I’m troubled as to larger questions of what we may or may not gain from destabilizing it and our privilege to do so. Hit Girl feels awesome because she’s a young, white middle-class girl in America, a group often pressured to be pure, innocent, and powerless. But in other parts of the world, kids with guns are a truly distressed class of child soldiers, where the loss of childhood innocence is a serious tragedy.

Additionally, I’m troubled by the fact that there are certainly some serious dangers of exploitation in Hit Girl. The slow motion action shots focus our gaze on her body, which is also the real-life body of a 12-year-old actress, Chloe Moretz. There are similar struggles in other female action heroes, like Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft, or Halle Berry as Catwoman, and there are many young (looking) girls in comics and anime who don’t wear much and kill things.  But as a live action movie with a real 12-year-old actress, I find it much more problematic, and I’m wrestling with identifying and articulating reasons why, beyond just the seemingly obvious “she’s young, female and vulnerable.”  Is it because she’s young and supposedly without the sexuality that Angelina or Halle might command and thus enjoy in those characters? It’s certainly unsettling to think about the target audience of 18 – 34-year-old men gazing at Moretz and the uneven power dynamic at play there. In the trailer, we see her in a colorful wig and purple super hero suit, but she also appears in the film in the classic plaid skirt schoolgirl outfit, which by now is practically shorthand for fetishized young girl. I don’t want to say that she is already necessarily a victim, though, because denying the burgeoning sexuality of t(w)een girls is itself a problem that creates troublesome double standards and neurotic expectations for young women. That said, the fetishization of the young female body for display in Kick-Ass is undeniably exploitative. (I mean, really. The school-girl outfit? Ugh.)

So, I’m troubled by the potential exploitation in Hit Girl. At the same time, there are ways that she works against our cultural notions of kids as innocent and girls as passive victims. And that’s definitely fun. In the end, I don’t think either take can necessarily win out over another; after all, there’s no such thing as a perfect representation. But I’m fascinated by Hit Girl and what we can learn about childhood and gender in working through our reactions to this character.


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12 Responses to “ Hit Girl Could Be Your New Favorite Tween ”

  1. k on March 9, 2010 at 9:11 AM

    You bring up some interesting points comparing Hannah Montana vs. Hit Girl as two types of girl super heroes. I wrote about Hit Girl and the red-band trailer last week on my blog Act Your Age: http://actyourage09.wordpress.com/2010/03/01/kick-ass-the-red-band-trailer-starring-hit-girl/

    check it out.

    • Lindsay H. Garrison on March 9, 2010 at 12:58 PM

      Thanks so much, K! It sounds like we both have some similar concerns. Great points about the characters in Role Models and Superbad. You bring up an interesting question about the tagline on the poster – it’s certainly open to many different readings, based on knowledges of other female super heroes. But I read it as an attempt to support Kick-Ass’ main premise about the “normal” kid who can go out, wear a costume, and fight crime (i.e. kick some ass) without any actual super powers, per se.

      Great blog – thanks for the link.

  2. Jonathan Gray on March 9, 2010 at 9:19 AM

    Awesome post, Lindsay. My first response to the trailer was, “whoa — watching the parents’ groups flip out over this could be almost as fun as watching the film.” But, as to the issue you note about the gaze, I wonder whether precisely because it’s a 12 year old girl, the film might have the ability to invite reflection on the gaze (and, thereby, even to short-circuit it somewhat). After all, as you say, we’re invited to gaze at her, clearly, but it’s darn awkward to do so, which could hopefully make more viewers think about how ingrained the gaze is with especially female superheroes.

    I’m not naive enough to think that all viewers will follow that lead, but a clear intertext here would seem to be Leon/The Professional. There, with the young Natalie Portman, her precocity and the film’s treatment of her as if she was older made for uncomfortable viewing that invited reflection on action movie formulas on one hand, but it of course turned Portman into a sexual figure and icon at the same time. It too was surrounded by third person effects concerns, but (for my money, at least) got some interesting — even if uncomfortable and unpleasant — reflection of the construction of childhood, and of girlhood in particular, on the table. Versus Leon, though, now the young girl is the assassin on one hand, while she still has a daddy on the other hand. I’ll be interested to see how those differences duke it out.

    • Jonathan Gray on March 9, 2010 at 9:23 AM

      … also, the use of the Banana Splits Adventure song, in rocked out version, is kinda cool 🙂

  3. Kyra Glass on March 9, 2010 at 12:02 PM

    Thanks for the great post Lindsay and for drawing my attention to something that will definitely be the source some great father/(adult) daughter time when the film comes out. The problem of the politics of kids with guns, not just abroad but also in some of the poorer areas of America, had not occurred to me when I first watched the trailer and it definitely problematizes the subversive pleasures of the film in ways that I think you laid out wonderfully. I also agree its valuable to think about the actual actress. My feelings about the trailer were similarly split. I was excited about the character whose loss of innocence seems to come with a gain in power and individuality; she is in so many ways they girl super-hero I wish had existed when I was growing up. However, at the same time I was viscerally concerned about the actress. Not only is there the potential for her to become the subject of the gaze in troubling ways but the character she is being asked to play necessitates something of a loss of innocence on the part of the actress. I was troubled that I had this reaction, it seems rather patronizing and assumes a kind of pure childhood that I know is a fiction, yet nonetheless “what parent would let there kid do this role” came unbidden to my mind when I watched the trailer. I agree with Jonathan that watching the parents groups will be entertaining in its own right, but the real story here will be whether this film can (along with Little Miss Sunshine and others) help build more spaces for different kinds of girlhoods. There are certainly risks and dangers to this, but possibly great rewards as well.

  4. Megan Biddinger on March 9, 2010 at 6:58 PM

    Fantastic post, Lindsay! I second what you and others have said about the problems here. There is no way to totally reconcile images/premises like this one with the real questions of child soldiers or women and girls’ lived experiences of violence. These sorts of stories present something like an inversion fantasy that is understandably compelling, but can’t offer much in the way of a meaningful politics, cultural or otherwise.

    That said, there was something about the details of how Hit-Girl is presented in this trailer that might suggest that Hollywood is complicating things in this iteration of the girl/woman warrior story. Like Lindsay and the other commenters, I noticed and raised an eyebrow at her school-girl plaid skirt, but it’s really skirts as one is part of her Hit-Girl uniform. In particular, when we see it swing around as she commits acts of blatant asskickery in the hallway, I was struck by the choice to garb her in anything like tarty tartan, but it then drew my attention to the fact that she is really covered up when in her Hit-Girl costume and not just in a we-painted-her-naked-body-in-a-full-latex-suit kind of way. If one can have age-appropriate superhero-wear (and if we agree that such a thing is at some level good), this seems like a step in that direction.

    The plaid skirt in her Hit-Girl costume also called my attention back to a moment earlier in the trailer when she is wearing the school girl outfit as a disguise. I always find the use of the trappings of femininity as a trap for others to be a compelling device if also a problematic one (why get rid of those trappings when they’re so darned useful?). What I really liked here was the visual imagery here where the dolt working the door winds up with Hit-Girl’s gun in his mouth and a hole in his cheek. The way the camera focuses on the bulge caused by Hit-Girl’s gun evokes the cinematography of hard-core porn, only instead of the school girl performing oral sex, it is her gun in the mouth of a man who bought into the idea of the innocent school girl. I guess I just felt like the trailer attempted to engage with the problematic tropes in which it trafficks in ways that I haven’t seen with other similar types of stories. I felt while watching that it wasn’t just inverting binaries while still reproducing troubling associations (between gun play and sex play, for example), but calling attention to and tweaking, if not totally critiquing them.

    I’m really looking forward to seeing this when it comes out and to another post on it, Lindsay!

  5. Lindsay H. Garrison on March 10, 2010 at 11:41 AM

    Thanks everyone for these great comments.

    Jonathan, you’re so right about the Banana Splits Adventure song! I didn’t recognize it until the second time I watched it, but it really does give it a more playful connotation. And I’ve never actually seen Leon/The Professional; sounds like I need to add it to my Netflix queue, stat. And yes, it might open up self-reflection on the gaze, which could certainly be useful. But for others, it might be one of these entryway paratexts where self-reflection is never allowed for some people b/c controversy shuts down certain possibilities of meaning.

    Kyra, I had some similar thoughts about the young actress. But, I guess if I were a stage mom, I might actually prefer that my kid’s break out role was something like this rather than a sweet little princess role, where she might run the risk of being kept in that role or image far too long and become a girl-woman who struggles to break free (see also: the Olsen twins, Miley Cyrus, Marlo Thomas circa 1970). But alas, I’m not sure I want my kids in showbiz at all. 🙂

    And Megan, yes! Great points. The trappings of femininity is another part of it that leaves me conflicted, plus, it’s also the trappings of femininity AND childhood working together that make it so interesting – I think the bellman says “oh, she’s just a little girl.” And I especially loved your points about the aesthetics of hard-core porn in the shot of her gun in the bell hop’s check. I hadn’t thought about it that way. You’re right – I also felt like the trailer attempted to engage with problematic tropes to play with them. Just like in the opening scene, when she’s talking about ponies and what not; the innocence and femininity of girlhood is set up, just to bring it crashing down with her f-bomb and description of the knife. I should have mentioned in the post somewhere that while the comic series was written by Mark Millar, the screenplay was written by a woman – Jane Goldman – whose other work (and personal life) lend another dimension to the story. (I think she started dating Jonathan Ross when she was a 16, and they’re now married with three little girls). Anyway, thanks so much for bringing up these points – great discussion!

  6. Kick-Ass: Get Real | Martyn Pedler on March 12, 2010 at 6:33 PM

    […] The movie, though, is entirely stolen by Chloe Moretz as the tween assassin Hit Girl – and that’s part of the problem. Mortez is perfect in the role, oozing charisma, and I can see her becoming a cult figure for young girls everywhere. I’m not the only one, either. Read the half-excited, half-concerned “Hit Girl Could Be Your New Favorite Tween”. […]

  7. largebill on March 19, 2010 at 10:08 AM

    What kind of parents allow their daughter to appear in such a movie. I understand the allure of fame and fortune, but at what price. I’m not a complete prude. However, there are things that are inappropriate at that young an age. Is destroying a child worth it for the shock value of hearing her saying the cuss words?

    That trailer looks more sad than entertaining.

  8. Daryl Cameron on April 21, 2010 at 11:12 AM

    My daughter (12) and I have already seen this movie twice(and she’s asking for showing number three)! Hit-Girl is awesome! Sure she’s a profane killing machine, but in reality she’s not saying anything more obscene than what already passes for casual schoolyard conversation. I’d rather my daughter aspire to fight crime and refuse to be victimized, than turn into just another unmotivated golddigger looking for a free pass in life because she was born with the physical attributes that men desire. Hit-Girl is a way better role model than Hanna Montana or any other number of Hollywood bimbos.

  9. John Jenkins on May 10, 2010 at 5:14 PM

    This article was awesome. Now that I think about it, I can’t remember a “tween” that represented girls her age as good as Hit Girl did, although i would have to say that I was surprised by her language and the rating of the movie. Clearly, children are not meant to see this film. I was even surprised, just as Daryl was on how the parents of that young teen were okay with their daughter playing such a character in a movie like this.

  10. Kristi on August 21, 2010 at 3:42 AM

    Hit Girl is my new favorite superhero. She is everything I wanted to be as a little girl. I wish this movie had been out then.

    I disagree that she is a victim of “the gaze”. The camera focuses on her body because her body is doing insanely cool martial arts! There is nothing sexualized about her in any way.

    About the little girl clothes, she IS a little girl!! When innocence and childhood are fetishized, even a child is accused of being a fetishist for dressing in an innocent, childlike manner? That’s kinda sick.

    Hit Girl is the first female ass-kicker I have ever seen who doesn’t come in second to any male, doesn’t become weak, helpless, or simply so much eye candy at any point, and is represented as just plain TOUGH, not tough but sexy, tough but vulnerable, tough but still needs a man. Chloe Moretz is now the only female performer on equal footing with Bruce Willis, John Wayne, Mickey Rourke, et al.

    As a kid, I had to idolize men, dream of growing up to be like this man or that man, because none of the sex kittens or passive princesses seemed like anything worth wanting to be.

    What would you rather have your daughter to aspire to; taking no @#$&, or just taking off her clothes?