Why THE HUNGER GAMES films wiped the skeptical anti-blockbuster smirk off of my face

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THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY – PART 1 was the first screening I ever attended acting in a press capacity, almost exactly a year ago. Being an eager-to-make-an-impact, green-eared thing with no experience, I threw myself at the opportunity, undertook extensive research like a good journalist should and tried to forge a confident, and what I hoped was critical, voice in my 4 star review. But this approach, although justifiable in its ambition to get the job at hand done, robbed me of an important – the most important – thing: what I actually thought of the film.

It was not until this week, after attending the screening and press conference with the full cast and director of MOCKINGJAY – PART 2, that I really realised the potential impact of THE HUNGER GAMES film franchise on the public. What kind of impact it has already had on millions of kids and what the closing instalment will mean for them when it hits cinemas on the 19th.

The adaptation of Suzanne Collins’s books has been a total Hollywood anomaly. It has been one of the most successful children’s film franchises of all time, rivaling the likes of Harry Potter and Twilight with its fandom, sweeping the box offices consistently, inspiring thousands upon thousands of kids to camp out in the freezing cold days before premieres to catch a glimpse of their favourite characters, and PART 2 will undoubtedly be one of the most, if not the most, watched film of 2015 worldwide. Yes, the films have made unimaginable millions for Lionsgate, the helming production-distribution company who’ve been criticised for their “economically motivated” choice to split the third book into two parts (including by me), instantly putting critics’ backs up (including mine).

But it has and will continue to also spread a socio-political message to millions of kids and an impressionable age, when flickers of war-torn news segments and stories about dying refugee kids on the banks of their continent will fall into the category of incomprehensible tragedy for most (including us). It will encourage them to be skeptical of authority and of overtly shiny media-packaged people, places and institutions who use their wealth to buy distraction from the poverty all around them. They will see a humanised female figure of hope for change thanks to the truly extraordinary acting talents of Jennifer Lawrence, who rejects the traditional Hollywood female persona set for her in both her acting methods and her personal life, and wears a stoney face of grim reality throughout the closing chapter of the franchise that speaks pragmatism and rationality (traits so often associated with men). And above all, it will send a message of standing up for what one believes in at all costs.

Underneath the spectacle of carefully choreographed fight scenes and stunning dystopian set pieces, futuristic war zones and love triangle drama, THE HUNGER GAMES is both a symbol and about the concept of symbolism. Yes, we as a society so badly need political activists to organise us and to sit through exhausting three hour debates on bill reforms. We need long political texts written by respected academics and weekend-spanning conferences about the social impact of laws. We need mobilising protests and unglamorous demonstrations in the freezing cold, door-to-door petitioning and MP lobbying to affect change. We need fundraisers and street collections and sit-ins and to make the boring choices over the fun choices a thousand times over until finally someone with power is swayed and progress is made, inch by inch. But we also need the future generations to be inspired to have the energy and inclination to do all of those things. We need them to be idealistic and happy and directly engaged with debates about war, oppression and the prospect of revolution. We need them to think critically about issues and not automatically accept the status quo, investing all their time in pre-packaged media that offers a disengaging, dehumanising experience. Above all, we need them to retain the confidence in their ideals as they grow into adulthood that a repressive authoritarian society is so intent on stripping from them in a bid to weaken all future prospects of resistance. The symbol of The Mockingjay does all of that. It proved to me that subversiveness takes many forms.

So what will be the legacy of this franchise? As the actors confirmed at today’s conference, the social and political framework of the film came from Collins’ book. The next big blockbuster franchise needn’t patronise its audiences with cheap thrills and simple concepts: if it invests in progressive writing, it can set the youth of today on fire.

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