Dir. Francis Lawrence
Screenplay/Novel: Suzanne Collins, Peter Craig, Danny Strong
Exec. Prod. Suzanne Collins and Jan Foster
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Jullianne Moore, Mahershala Ali, Josh Hutcherson, and Donald Sutherland.
Something is quite evident when it comes to Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games series, and executive producer of the movie adaptations: she has a fondness for black people. Race has been an issue that has somewhat clouded the series since the first film. Fans called into question the race of one character in the first film, and many were angry that the character (Rue) was black, to which many others, and seemingly Collins, felt was not an issue because Collins apparently described Rue and Thresh as black. In each new movie, the number of black faces increases, as does their screen time. Lenny Kravits who plays Cinna, and Amandla Sternberg who played Rue, are memorable characters from the first film—Kravits enters the second along with Jeffrey Wright as Beetee, adding to the cast of color. In the new film, Mockingjay, joining him is Mahershala Ali who plays Boggs. At this point in the Hunger Games story, Katniss Everdeen is about that age where things don’t make sense: her 20’s. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay part 1 begins with her experiencing a nightmare in an undisclosed close quarters before she is taken to an infirmary. There she reunites with Finnick, a friend and winner of last hunger games. She is then escorted away by Boggs, a person she doesn’t seem to have reservations about, and is comfortable with. This comfort never leaves. He goes over the moon for her throughout the movie. Next is Beetee’s who entrance into the film is by a hand movement signaling Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) and President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore) to stop badgering Katniss about the opportunity to become the Mockingjay. Katniss gives Beetee an From then on, she is escorted by Boggs to a ship to see the remnants of District 12, her former home. The Capitol has decimated it. She finds her old house and retrieves her sister’s cat. But it is the other items she chooses to take that define her as a person. She collects a picture of her father and takes one of his coats. In a scene of her returning to District 13, she departs from an elevator onto the floor where her family stays. With her father’s coat and plain navy blue uniform, she looks like a female Indiana Jones.
Throughout the movie, Katniss seems lost, brittle, and mournful. She believes she has lost the only men in her life that gave her a sense of direction: Peeta, and her father. And as a voice for many, and a heroine, she has obligations to the rebellion and hardly any to herself, other than keeping the memory of Peeta and her friends alive. Here is where the black characters, particularly the men, come as comfort. Whether it’s Boggs as escort and military head, protecting her, advising her, saving her life, or risking his, or Beetee a fan and fellow survivor of the games, Katniss’ voice of reason in conferences with President Coin and Heavensbee, weapons consultant and a computer wiz who runs interference during a scene where Katniss tries to play Mr. Snow. The unfortunate thing about these relationships is the racial baggage they bring, and the expendable nature of black lives for white empowerment. Katniss’ first task as Mockingjay is to incite a spark in rebels in another district. She is taken to another district headed, this time, by a black woman, who has Katniss there to inspire the wounded. Katniss enters the hospital and becomes afraid of the pressure of her hero status until she walks into the room were a number of refugees are. A voice speaks. After asking Katniss what she’s doing there, the scene cuts to a black woman. Then a cut to Katniss explaining, then a cut to another black woman who starts to encourage her. Back to Katniss then cut to a black boy who furthers encourages her by saying he is ready to fight with her, then gives the popular District 12 hand sign. Video feed of this goes viral and Mr. Snow, her opponent and distant tormentor sees this and orders an attack on the hospital. Katniss, Boggs, and crew attempt to rescue them but there’s no use. They die. Which propels Katniss into her role as Mockingjay—as their savior. From here, Katniss goes through a series of events that to push her further into her role or pull her away from it. At different times, like a Capitol attack on the hospital or bombing of District 13, or in the presences of her old home, Katniss must always be acting. Always speaking for the camera. Swayed and being directed by a team of soldier-film makers, or by Coin and Heavensbee, or by Peeta’s appearance on Capitol TV, instructing Katniss not to fight. Katniss’ mother and sister are helpful but it is in the black characters, particularly the black male characters, where Katniss finds her support and confidence. In one scene, after a bombing, Katniss is asked to give a statement on film. She can’t do it. Too consumed with grief and bewilderment. The pressure begins and the film cuts from one person to another, to Katniss bellowing with anger, until a cut to Boggs frames his care: “Leave her alone,” he says. In another scene when Katniss is attacked by a former Hunger Games player the camera turns to P.O.V. shot in which Katniss’ attacker is choking her until we see Boggs hit him over the head with a pan.
In different section of the film, including a song sang at lake in her old district, Katniss bears her fathers jacket. The only piece of him she has left. The lack of a father figure makes it acceptable for Katniss to rely on and depend on these black figures. Black males whose job is to support her, relate to her and even die for her. This is has been present as early as the films of Shirley Temple, according to James Snead who’s critiques on the Temple films called attention to the existing problem of blacks as protectors, moral conscious and paternal or maternal figures to white children “lacking structure.” This makes Collins’ attempt at diversity and black empowerment—through the number of blacks on screen— impudent and even girlish. Her views of blacks, however left leaning, seems to be rooted in a fantastical vision of blacks that is reminiscent of slavery. Katniss’ relationship to Mockingjay’s black males as well as the first two movies brings up a few questions. Who or what determines the value of black life? How and when is it determined? By whose standards, Whites or blacks? What does this say about how white women relate to black men? What do white women see when they see black men? Equals, opposites—fans? Legitimate partners? The favoring of blacks in a film like this can be seen as admirable, but like fatherless children, not much seems to change in the future.