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  • Mitch Blatt

Media Warfare: the Mockingjay and the Thought Leader

Francis Lawrence’s 2014 movie The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - part 1 focuses on the use of media to sway public opinions and back or fight particular causes. The basic premise of the Hunger Games films is that, in a dystopian future, two teenagers from each of twelve Districts are selected for a televised fight to the death. Heroine Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) ends up symbolically defying the ruling class and inspiring many to revolt—basically, she becomes the unintentional thought leader of a revolution. While the previous films focus on Katniss’ survival, The Hunger Games: Mock-

ingjay focuses on her thought leadership. Without further ado, let’s get meta and analyze a piece of media, about media.


Reconnaissance

Katniss is brought to District 13’s underground base to meet with their leader President Coin (Julianne Moore). Coin and rebel commander Plutarch Heavensbee (Phillip Seymour Hoffman) want to use Katniss as a symbol to motivate the other twelve Districts to rise up against the Capitol, the ruling class.

Right off the bat, we see a war over the public’s hearts and minds. Antagonist President Snow (Donald Sutherland) chooses his words carefully so as to not legitimize the rebellion. The Capitol TV network (into which 13 has hacked) shows an interview where Katniss’ presumed-dead lover Peeta Mellark (Josh Hutcherson) talks about “what really

happened” when Katniss symbolically defied the Capitol; he says that Katniss’ act wasn’t part of a rebel plan, and urges the viewers to not go into a civil war against the Capitol. Katniss reluctantly agrees to be 13’s symbol.

Katniss shoots a staged pro-rebel “propo” (Heavensbee’s term for propaganda pieces used to sway hearts & minds), but it’s inauthentic—she’s on a soundstage, flubbing scripted lines said against a computer-generated backdrop. Her longtime ally Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) suggests she be out in the field—her most inspiring moments, like when she

volunteered herself for the Games in her sister Prim’s place, were unscripted and real. 13’s media crew shoots footage in District 8’s hospital, which is overflowing with wounded civilians, but Snow retaliates by having the hospital bombed. Later, the Capitol uses Peeta to suggest that Katniss is in over her head and that District 13 are using her as a pawn. Katniss decides to do a propo in the ruins of her home, District 12, to show the other Districts that the Capitol had bombed it in response to Katniss’ prior act of defiance. Katniss & the film crew do a propo where Katniss sings “The Hanging Tree” for the Districts (but not the Capitol), inspiring the rebels to blow up the Capitol’s hydroelectric dam. Snow has Peeta beg them to stop the violence. Games survivor Beetee (Jeffrey Wright) interrupts this video with the Hanging Tree propo, prompting Peeta to warn Katniss that the Capitol’s coming to kill everyone.

After surviving a Capitol air raid, Coin wants Katniss to lie to everyone that 13 is fully operational and had no casualties (to keep their spirits up). Several members of 13 rescue the Quell survivors, but not without losses. Coin makes an impassioned public speech about not giving up the fight against the Capitol, while Katniss is horrified to find Peeta strapped down in an isolation room.


Strong Points:

I liked the focus on waging war through a “winning hearts and minds” strategy—swaying people to their side through intellectual/emotional appeals—rather than physical violence. I feel like that’s something you don’t really see in other war/dystopia movies. It’s a good look at what wars can be like off the battlefield, and also a refreshingly different way to do a war story. The visuals are thought-provoking, and the acting is good—Katniss’s post-Games trauma is apparent onscreen, and Sutherland does a good job playing Snow as a threatening villain even without any physical confrontation between him and Katniss.


Weak Points:

I get that ending Part I by showing Peeta thrashing in his restraints sort of highlights the Katniss-Peeta dynamic as the central focus of the Hunger Games movies, but it’s not that impactful. There’s dramatic, crescendoing music, but the visuals show Katniss looking on in horror as Peeta thrashes around before going limp; there’s just something dissonant between the music and the visuals.


Overall:

I feel like most dystopian stories geared toward a YA audience are about overthrowing the dystopian regime through violence, but Mockingjay - part 1 is mainly a war of storytelling and narrative-framing. Katniss’ media crew literally uses the violence inflicted on the Districts as backdrops to show the evil of the Capitol.

As Haymitch points out to the rebels, Katniss’ most persuasive moments—volunteering herself for the Hunger Games to save her sister, making allies with fellow competitors, etc.—weren’t staged. Thought leadership is organic. Thought leaders don’t set out to influence people, they do that inadvertently. Katniss was acting as the Mockingjay as far back as the first movie. Thought leaders do thought leadership even before people start calling them thought leaders, and people from abolitionists to leaders of religious schisms have done thought leadership since before the term was invented.

I give The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - part 1 a 5/5 for the story, 4/5 for the characters (the characters would seem pretty bland if I hadn’t seen the previous Hunger Games movies, in my opinion) and 4/5 for the scenery (most of it looked like a variety of “generic dystopia” locales, but I liked District 13’s base).

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