Most Black folks didn’t originally think to run and see The Hunger Games. Back in 2012, when the reality TV meets anti-government propaganda film debuted, those who couldn’t wait to fill the theaters had mainly been readers of author Suzanne Collins’s best-selling (65 million) science fiction classic. Most of this audience, full of anxious excited teens, anticipated seeing the toils of rebellious yet reluctant revolutionary leader Katniss Everdeen, who shoots her bow and arrow with delight to fight the powers that be.
But years later, things and times have change. As the third installment, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 hits theaters today, the makeup of its audience has morphed. Lately, The Hunger Games expands its appeal to people of color—grown adults running to see the blockbuster action flick.
The interest all comes (like many things in the community) from word of mouth. When the first installment debuted, starring actress Jennifer Lawrence was fairly unknown outside of industry circles. The original Hunger Games promotional—featuring a lanky White girl with stringy brown hair standing next to some pudgy White boy in a rubber jumpsuit—obviously didn’t appeal to most African-Americans. Outside of some who knew that Lenny Kravitz played a supporting role, few in the ’hood (or anywhere else) cared for some game with a name about hunger.
But like a grassroots protest effort, nods of approval spread about a unique storyline of a government that forcefully draws children from a lottery to make them smile and fight a death match where the last one alive wins food for their district. The twisted theme of struggle resonated with an older demographic that remembers Lord of the Flies. The storyline moved the more progressive crowd who saw an eerie parallel to real life barrel fights for low income crumbs in close project quarters where the young beat and shoot one another in desperate, bloody crimes of survival.
More whispers spread to Black folks thanks to evil trolls adding racist commentary online. Social media bigots bombed timelines complaining about the casting of Black actors to play characters Rue (Amanda Stenberg) and Thresh (Dayo Okeniyi). Idiots barked prejudice back and forth. Liberals defended, of course. And a larger interest was drawn from those whose skin glistened with melanin. The results of it all came in the end, as the first Hunger Games became a box office shocker, amassing $214 million worldwide and becoming the third best opening movie of all time—all thanks to controversy, water cooler talk, and a “we shall overcome” storyline.
In 2013, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire added more appeal. This time, the cast boasted an Oscar-winner after Jennifer Lawrence tripped up the stage to win her Best Actress trophy for Silver Linings Playbook. Also added to the cast was the phenomenal Jeffrey Wright as Beetee, a former Hunger Games contestant winner. Again the story resonated, with a secret resistance infiltrating the system, planning to overthrow and occupy the wastefully rich 1% who lived within the headquarters of the government’s walls.
Today, with The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, we see the film’s release interestingly timed to drop when a nation is on edge throbbing with tension, as countless await the results from jurors deciding whether to indict Ferguson officer Darren Wilson over the murder of Michael Brown. Reminding many of how battles are lost on the paths of war, Mockingjay reflects hot and cold emotional moments where momentum gains and can often wane.
Adding even more color to the screen, Jeffrey Wright returns, fresh off the series finale of Boardwalk Empire. Mahershala Ali plays the resistance’s head of security. And Evan Ross even pops up with a small one-liner role. As Lawrence’s Everdeen throws up bows, shooting down government planes, we see something that represents pieces of where we are today as a nation. Instead of reality TV being used as a tool to numb minds, in Mockingjay we see the videotaped strength of motivating and empowered protestors tired and depressed by the movement. During scenes of famine, we see Black and White faces risking their lives, uniting with chants and song to stay positive during strife as the system executes those who are fighting for what’s right.
In comparison to the last two films, Mockingjay feels longer, slower and somewhat more drawn-out, making us hunger for more action and less strategizing. But this third movie, in one of the only protest film franchises, is an entertaining 120-minute saga that now attracts a diversified following drawn to its echoes of current event headlines mocking those fighting the power, from Ferguson to Hong Kong and Mexico.
With a somewhat calmed down theme of fight back, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 appeals to the PG-13 and African-American adult crowds alike.
Raqiyah Mays is a seasoned writer, TV/radio personality, and activist. Her debut novel The Man Curse will be released by Simon & Schuster in 2015. Follow her on Twitter @RaqiyahMays.