The Hunger Games Thread

image of Lenny Kravitz as Cinna and Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss leaning their heads together in a supportive gesture, just before she is to be launched into The Hunger Games to fight for her life

[SPOILERS!!! Please note that there are BIG AND SMALL SPOILERS in this thread, in both the post and in comments, so if you do not want to read any SPOILERS, be advised that you should skip this thread. Because it contains SPOILERS!!!]

So, Iain and I saw The Hunger Games this weekend. Iain had read the book (and really enjoyed it); I had not read the book, although I was familiar with the characters and the plot, because I'd read a great deal about the story as a fan of the Japanese book/film Battle Royale, to which The Hunger Games has been (understandably) compared. So, going in, Iain was already a huge fan, and I was a potential fan—who felt and feels still like there is plenty of room in the world for both The Hunger Games AND Battle Royale—and we both loved it. Like, OMG looooooooooved it.

Before I get any further, let me address the issue of casting, or, more specifically, whitewashing, which has already been covered extensively (and better) in other spaces. A few examples: Why the Casting of The Hunger Games Matters; The Imminent Whitewashing of 'The Hunger Games' Heroine; Why Jennifer Lawrence Shouldn't Play Katniss; and Racebending's typically great coverage is here. I also recommend Ursula K. Le Guin's 2004 essay "A Whitewashed Earthsea," on the general topic.

I'm not putting this issue up front to "get it out of the way," but because it is of prime importance. Much of the criticisms are going to be waved away with some variation on "but Jennifer Lawrence is BRILLIANT!" and she is. But the fact that Lawrence is brilliant as the central character, Katniss Everdeen, does not retroactively justify the casting call for an olive-skinned, dark-haired, grey-eyed character which contained the specifications: "She should be Caucasian, between ages 15 and 20, who could portray someone 'underfed but strong,' and 'naturally pretty underneath her tomboyishness.'"

Actresses of color were not even given a chance. And to argue that's okay because Lawrence is awesome is to implicitly (if unintentionally) suggest that no actress of color could have been awesome, too. Whooooooops your racism.

As if to underline why this stuff matters, approximately ONE ZILLION people who managed to miss that Rue is explicitly an African-American character in the book, are complaining all over the internetz about her character being African-American in the movie. Yiiiiiikes.

And I've really got no great conclusion for this discussion, except to paraphrase what I have said before on the issue of casting: If one cannot get behind a person of color playing a fictional character that one imagined to be white, or has been white in hir previous incarnations, one really ought to consider that there is a line at which "canon" starts to operate in the same way as "tradition" to entrench privilege.

* * *

I mentioned that Iain and I loved the movie. (That is an understatement.) I loved it for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it's a feminist, secular, female-centered film—which, by the way, had the third best opening weekend of all time despite its premiere well outside any traditional blockbuster season.

(Dear Hollywood: Are you paying attention? There is a huge market for feminist, secular, female-centered fare. PLEASE PROCEED ACCORDINGLY. Love, Liss.)

One of the things I said to Iain in the car on the way home, as we feverishly discussed every detail, was that I would have been absolutely wild for The Hunger Games when I was a little girl. It's such a Kessel Run in less than twelve parsecs away from Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Arc or Dragonslayer , in which Princess Leia and Marion Ravenwood and Valerian were second fiddle and totally isolated, virtually never seeing or interacting with other women—thus suggesting to me that girls who were smart and tough self-segregated away from other women: Only silly girls hang out together in their giggling little gaggles; smart girls hang out with boys.

Tokenism communicates dangerous things, and Katniss' interactions with Rue and Prim and even Effie are important (even if yet insufficient).

But the thing I loved most about the film was how incredibly moving it is. I blubbed half a dozen different times during the film, which is a lot even for me. I was just gutted watching the kids being selected, and then being encouraged to revel in the abundance of food and wealth and luxury after a lifetime of want, a temporary indulgence before they are shuffled off to a violent end, like a poor man railroaded by the justice system who wears his first suit in an opulent courtroom, which never granted any justice in his direction, before he is sentenced to his death.

I could hardly contain my sobs when Rue's home district erupted into rebellion at her murder, and at the evidence that the state was controlling the games—not only is the game inherently vile, but it is fixed; it's not even a fair game to the death—tears spilled from my eyes again. Here are your bootstraps; now go ahead and try to use them while I deny you access and opportunity.

It was just too easy to see the parallels in our own culture, our own time. The Hunger Games is not so much a dystopian future as an alternate universe to this one—technological advancement moving in inverse proportion and direction to social justice.

It is an extraordinary allegory for modern US culture and its increasingly cavernous class divisions, perfectly drawn down to the costumes, which simultaneously reference the juxtapositions of the gilded fashion of the robber barons' roaring '20s with Depression Era garb, and the high carnivalia of pre-revolution aristocratic France with the laced boot and bow of the Appalachian hunter.

I challenge you to watch the child representatives of their respective districts scrabbling in the earth for weaponry and food and not feel rising within you the rage that millions of USians are pitted against one another for limited resources by their governing elite, in this grand game of social Darwinism, because people are only exploitable when there's only so much food, so many jobs, so much drinkable water, so much access to healthcare to go around.

I read a lot into the film, of the work I do every day, and the film was happy to oblige me.

It is an action film, in a true sense, but it is much more. The film is most powerful in its quiet moments, like the one in the picture above. Katniss vibrates with fear; Cinna can do nothing for her, except to be there with her in that fear. It is a film about empathy; and a film about the lack thereof.

There is more that I loved (bowl of berries!), and very little that I didn't (hand-held cameras!), which I will reserve for comments, lest I ramble for the rest of the afternoon. I will just say this once more: I loved The Hunger Games.

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