I was at the end of middle school when the first movie of the Hunger Games Trilogy was released. At the time, I had thought that the film was a serious let-down, with much of the book’s original purpose ripped out in favor of a “Hollywood-style” interpretation. But that was typical, as most books that were being turned into movies were glamified to fit a dramatic Hollywood action movie. But as the movies continued to come out, I got older, and noticed more issues with the films. By the end of it, I thought the films shouldn’t have existed at all.
Why is this? Well, just the idea of the films existing goes against everything that the books aspired to criticize. The books themselves were about a young woman of color (presumably native, based off her town’s physical characteristics) being inspired by a young black girl’s death to lead a rebellion against the glutinous and overly-extravagant Capitol, the head of Panem (which is the Latin word for “bread”).
Panem is a place where the districts closest to the Capitol are the wealthiest, while the furthest are the poorest (and tend to be people of color). But the Capitol itself benefits off of turning the fight to the death between children into a spectacle, watching their every movement and promoting them as though they were nothing more than TV actors. Katniss and Peeta’s romance gets televised and focused on, and throughout the books you can see they were a point of entertainment and propaganda, working to gain “sympathy” from the viewers. Meanwhile, the families of those that have to fight sit agonizingly, watching their children being brutally murdered for entertainment.
All the while, propaganda in support of the regime was constantly emphasized, with police task forces ensuring the peace. The propaganda is representative of the news media, promoting submission to the regime while broadcasting all the issues with it as a form of “entertainment”.
The Hunger Games criticizes everything that supports the oppressive system, which includes mainstream movie media. This is the biggest kicker for why the movies shouldn’t have existed. It was made by a large company (Lionsgate) which altered the feel of the books in order to show what they wanted with the rebellion, without anyone pinpointing back to the US (or other Western) system as a whole. It degrades the whole point of the books.
Not only that, but their marketing adds insult to injury, by promoting “Capitol-inspired” makeup, merchandise, computer games, all of which trivialize the struggle that book Katniss faces going against. It is using luxury as promotion for something that criticizes this very aspect. This wasn’t just for the first movie either; it popped up again in each of later three films as well.
The original movie made the same mistake the Capitol did: focusing on the romance rather than the violence. It wiped out just about half of the point of the first book, turning instead to make it all about the romance when it should not have been. Of course, this gained massive amounts of criticism by viewers, and Lionsgate made it more subtle in later films.
However, they didn’t change the fact that they completely whitewashed much of District Twelve. Rather than having people with brown skin and hair (as the book describes the majority of the district being), they got “lightly tan” people who had to dye their hair the right colors (for Katniss and Gale). Also, the actress who played Katniss refused to “lose weight” for the part, which also takes out the fact that District Twelve was a heavily impoverished district, and it erases much of the struggle of Katniss’s survival. I don’t mean to say that Jennifer Lawrence should have gotten to an unhealthy weight, but to have someone who didn’t look anywhere close to starving play the part of someone who was supposed to be malnourished is a bit of a stretch. The point of her depiction is to show the horrors that the Capitol caused, not to put the biggest name actress you can as the main role.
As popular as the books got, it would have been much better if they had been left as they were-books. Of course the movies made lots of money, and were insanely popular, but that was because people fell into the trap of the entertainment. As long as it’s not real, it’s okay to see it, right? Well, not if the powerful message of the books just get lost.