Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games
seen @ Center Cinema 6, Sunnyside, Queens, NY
3.27.12


Recently, I wrote about a blind spot I tend to have for certain fanboy movies, and I tried to be as honest as possible with myself about the possible reasons why. Looking back on it now, I feel fairly confident that the conclusions I came to are the right ones, based on my experience and my biases. One thing that subsequently occurred to me came as I wrote to my pal Bibi about this: in recent years, I've been cutting myself off from more and more aspects of pop culture that I used to indulge in all the time - comics, TV, modern music - and it could be that I'm risking a sort of cultural alienation if I continue. And while becoming a hermit is not completely without a certain appeal, I'm fairly sure that it's not what I really want when push comes to shove.


Okay, so maybe not everything that's popular sucks. Intellectually, I know that, but it's a mindset that I'm trying to take baby steps away from. Won't be easy, but the first step I took was this week, when I saw The Hunger Games, a movie that came with a mountain of hype behind it (and we all know how I feel about hype), based on an unfamiliar-to-me series of young adult novels.




It was good, however I thought it was also a pastiche of a lot of similar futuristic bloodsport/reality television/youth-sploitation movies. The common comparison I keep seeing is to the Japanese film Battle Royale, but I saw elements of The Running Man, The Truman Show, Logan's Run, Westworld, etc. Still, it sustained my interest, thanks in large part to another great performance from Jennifer Lawrence. The early scenes in her home district, in fact, reminded me a whole lot of her breakthrough film Winter's Bone.


I really could've done without all the relentless cutting! Gary Ross directed Games, and this looks very different from either Pleasantville (another movie about teenagers thrust into an artificial environment against their will for the entertainment of others) or Dave. Games has more moving camera shots, more handheld shots, and it looks grittier in comparison. Non-stop editing and blurry action scenes were never a problem in Ross' other films, and here, especially in the first half, it was relentless to the point of distraction and I hated it. Still, Games is worth seeing for Lawrence alone.




Now normally, this might be the end of it, were it not for a very disturbing trend I've noticed while preparing this piece. Apparently there's a segment of the audience who have read the books and are shocked, SHOCKED, that some characters look differently than how they'd imagined them in the books. Specifically, they're surprised some characters are black


Now I knew that Lenny Kravitz was in the movie, so I figured it wouldn't be completely devoid of color, but still, I admit, I consciously kept an eye out for how many non-white characters would be in the film. There were indeed a few, and I had no problem with how they were depicted. The problem is with this portion of Fandom that automatically assumed Games was set in an all-white world.




There's a lot I could say about this, but what it comes down to is simple: when you're part of a privileged majority, one in which your stories, your experiences, your perspective is considered the default setting by unspoken agreement, this kind of reaction, to seeing people who don't look like you, is not surprising at all. You don't have to think about minority representation because it's not an issue you have to worry about. You take it for granted that yours is the "normal" perspective.


This reminds me of a situation a few years ago in which a prominent, white sci-fi author wrote a well-intentioned essay on how to approach writing "the other" in literature. Let's just say it was not well-received by the POCs within the online sci-fi communityMy understanding is that the black characters in Games were, in fact, described as such in the book, so how did Fandom Assembled somehow miss that? (Maybe the black characters should've worn hoods.)




See, this is what I meant when I said that Fandom can be disappointing. And because this is an issue that's bigger than Fandom, I'm not sure what can be done about it.


But I don't wanna end this on a down note, so I'll return to my original point. I was mistaken; not everything that's popular sucks, and I'll try to remember that in the future.

10 comments:

  1. The jump cutting sounds unfortunate.

    I don't want to relish on this racism issue that exists (and I knew nothing about), because who wants to sit in it, but it really saddens me that this still exists.

    It also confuses me so that this exists still. I look at some of the more popular shows currently in fandom and I'm sure there's a segment of people who I'm sure still attack a show for it, color has disappeared in so many of them. LEVEL UP, Young Justice, The Avengers, color doesn't seem to be an issue here.

    I never read The Hunger Games, so I don't know if there are characters in stated as being black or not so if these fans uproar is equal pure racism or a combined racism+pureism to books.

    I'll admit, what I KNOW about The Hunger Games you'd think it woulda been an all white future though... or that if they're were blacks they'd be butlers, chefs and maids in the rich district. I'm basing this on bare knowledge. Still, seriously... even in a war torn America after a Civil War, how would it be ALL-WHITE? I cry at fandom...

    Luckily Rich, neither of us are "fandom"... we enjoy things that come our way. Me, more than you with my proclivities towards ALL things Pop-Culture.

    So back to the movie, jump cuts huh? But an acting performance is enough to save the entire film?

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    1. Well, Jennifer Lawrence really is that good.

      It's not so much genre shows and movies as it is shows and movies in general: POCs are simply more marginalized than ever. So when you have a generation that grows up not used to seeing POCs in large numbers on TV or film, of course they're gonna be surprised when they actually see some where they didn't expect any.

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  2. After Peeta, Rue was my favorite character.

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    1. Yeah, she was nice. My understanding is that her fate triggers events in the subsequent books.

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  3. I think it's ridiculous that some people complain about they cast Black actors for some of the characters. I mean seriously, are people that daft?? I quite like Lenny Kravitz as Cinna and Rue is downright adorable as Rue, which makes her fate here even more heartbreaking. I definitely agree w/ you that not every popular thing that generate this much hype is bad. I'm looking forward to the sequel.

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    1. Kravitz was alright. He's taking the approach that I would take if I were a musician transitioning to acting: starting out in small(er) roles where he doesn't have to do the heavy lifting and building from there. That's how Will Smith began.

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    2. Yeah, I think Kravitz's got quite a talent for acting. I'd like to see more of him do more movies and see if he's charismatic enough to carry a film on his own one day. Btw, I tagged you for the 7x7 award over on my blog, hope you'll do it.

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  4. Spot-on post! I had been skeptical about this as well since most super-popular things aren't as cool as people think, but I did end up enjoying both the book and film (the shaky cam is overdone though, I agree). I was disgusted at the backlash from ridiculously racist fans, especially regarding Rue (who is one of the best characters and very clearly written as "dark-skinned" in the book). But then I have to remember that most white people are awful and I am basically ashamed to be one of them.

    BUT one thing that wonderfully sets this series apart from the various films/books that it's compared to is the leading lady! I think Katniss is a very strong female character and it's exciting to have someone like her at the center of a major action/sci-fi franchise. Doesn't happen too often but when it does I'm always smitten (ie, Ripley, Sarah Connor). So glad to see Jennifer Lawrence kick ass in the role, as expected!

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  5. I keep going back to those scenes with Katniss in her home district and I wonder whether Lawrence got the part because they're so evocative of 'Winter's Bone.' I think Katniss and Ree have quite a bit in common.

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