Let Me Entertain You | The importance of civil unrest onscreen

Over the past week and a half, I have seen Mockingjay: Part 1 in theaters twice. Once on the day it premiered so I could review it for the Daily, and once with my mom and best friend at home. I am a fan of The Hunger Games series, both the books and the movies. While they may not be the best written, the novels deal with intriguing themes of rebellion and identity in a way that other YA series simply don’t. While the media covering the films is mainly preoccupied with the boring love triangle between protagonist Katniss and the two boys vying for her attention, the movies themselves have done a good job of portraying the underlying message of the books. The Hunger Games is special because it shows how the government and media manipulate the fearful masses until they are willing to sacrifice freedom for security.

Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in Mockingjay: Part 1. Courtesy of EW.
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in Mockingjay: Part 1. Courtesy of EW.

It is surreal that in the same week that a film centered on social unrest catapulted to the top of the box office, real protests and fighting for freedom was occurring. It is impossible to watch the riot scenes in Mockingjay: Part 1 without recalling the civil unrest that is occurring in this country. In the film, these scenes of protest have positive, just connotations: the people are working to overthrow an oppressive regime. However, mainstream media condemns riots as the violent and unnecessary acts of radicals. Sound familiar?

I’m not comparing the situation in Ferguson and the various sites of unrest around the world to a fictional scenario. You can turn off a television to end a movie, but it’s impossible to switch off the nightmare and fear the protestors have felt since the decision of the Grand Jury last Tuesday. However, in times such as these, the importance of media is ever important.

Social media is obviously critical to the modern protest, both in spreading awareness and in documenting atrocities occurring. #BlackLivesMatter is a crucial reminder of how high the stakes are, and how greatly America has mistreated its people. But even fiction depicting scenes of unrest can affect viewers and influence actions.

In Thailand, the three-fingered salute of The Hunger Games has become a popular sign of resistance, and has inspired one of its leading anti-government groups, The League of Liberal Thammasat for Democracy. The phrase “If we burn, you burn with us,” taken from the book Mockingjay, was spray-painted on an arch in Ferguson early on in the protests last week.

While the story of The Hunger Games series differs from current events in America, or in Thailand, the symbols are immutable. Fiction presents us with a forum to voice our dissatisfaction, and then have it be heard as a call to arms in reality. It is by far not the most important aspect of a rebellion, but it is an interesting and powerful one nonetheless.

Audiences can hopefully learn from civil unrest as portrayed onscreen, and use it as an opportunity to broaden their perspectives. A few weeks ago, I was in a theater to see Interstellar. Before the movie, a trailer for the upcoming film Selma showed. This movie is about the protests in Selma, Alabama led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. While watching this trailer, I realized that everyone in the theater was white.

We should watch that movie, not so that white people can feel guilty about racism but then feel better because it happened a long time ago, way back in the 1960s.  We should watch that movie to remind ourselves that the Selma riots were not that long ago, that Dr. King would be barely older than my grandmother were he alive today. We should watch that movie, and others like it, to recognize that the fight continues, injustice remains, and if we choose to stay down we are the problem.

Hopefully white people and all privileged groups will be able to watch films which challenge them, which show them the importance of civil unrest. Hopefully the downtrodden who fight and protest every day will watch them and feel encouraged, feel as if they are being heard. Civil disobedience is an incredibly important tool, and when commemorated in movies it is normalized. Society could use a little more rebellion, onscreen and off.

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