'Hunger Games: Catching Fire' Sparks Online Political Debate (Video)

8:00 AM PST 11/23/2013 by Paul Bond

Donald Sutherland, who plays President Snow, hopes the movie will "stir up a revolution." Be careful what you wish for.

Donald Sutherland recently told the Guardian that he hopes his newest film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, will “stir up a revolution,” which to him means that young people will be encouraged to agitate for left-wing causes like more food stamps, solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, the closure of Guantanamo and opposition to energy drilling and drone strikes.

One problem: Some who are embracing the film for its political allegory are conservatives, and even Tea Partiers, people Sutherland dismisses as a bunch of racists.

The first Hunger Games film in 2012 also struck a chord with conservatives who saw it as a story about government overreach leading to tyranny, but Sutherland, who plays the the evil President Snow in both films, may have been unaware of that interpretation, judging from an interview he gave to ScreenRant.com while promoting Catching Fire.

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“Could someone from the Tea Party sit down and look at this and think of President Snow as, say, President Obama?” asked ScreenRant.

“No chance,” Sutherland said, before adding: “Oh, I see what you’re saying. Well, the Tea Party doesn’t look at Barack Obama as a dictator; they look at Barack Obama as a black man in the White House …That’s what generates their hatred.”

Sutherland’s accusations aside, what the right says it sees in Catching Fire is summed up succinctly at Breitbart.com, where film reviewer Christian Toto writes: “When The Hunger Games hit theaters last year, Americans didn’t know the extent of NSA domestic spying, that Obamacare would wipe out health insurance plans for millions despite the president’s solemn promise or that a weaponized IRS was targeting Tea Party groups.

“So watching a dystopian future in which reality television distracts the masses, the government fears a popular rebellion and dissent must be wiped out at all costs is a tad more chilling than usual.”

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To be sure, conservatives began to embrace Catching Fire long before it even opened. In March, a group called the Tea Party Patriots held a Hunger Games-themed youth event where they debuted a trailer for a faux film called A Movement on Fire, where young rebels battle against statists bent on smothering individuality through handouts and regulations. (See the video below).

Of course liberals, like Sutherland, see entirely different messages in the two Hunger Games movies. Chief among them is that the story is an indictment against an income gap that has a tiny class of people  -- 1 percent, perhaps -- living in luxury at the expense of the other 99 percent. But one need not be a conservative to understand Catching Fire’s appeal to the right, as evidenced by Andrew O’Hehir’s article at Salon.com headlined, “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Whose revolution is it?”

“I have no idea whether (Suzanne) Collins understood, while writing her best-selling trilogy of novels, that this would allow Tea Party libertarians to embrace Katniss Everdeen’s incipient rebellion against the tyranny of the effete, aestheticized and affluent Capital as easily as could Obama liberals or left-wing anarchists,” O’Hehir writes. “Is this a story of the 99 percent rising against their corporate overlords, or of real Americans ‘taking their country back’ from the cultural elite?”

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Of course there are those who see only a movie for the sake of entertainment and void of political allegory. But that hasn’t kept cast members from commenting on the political aspects of the film when prodded by curious interviewers.

For example, Woody Harrelson, who calls himself an “anarchist,” told Details.com recently that the movie is “about people rising up to fight against a corrupt government that controls them.”

And Jeffrey Wright, who plays Beetee, told Hypable.com that Catching Fire is “welcoming of the entire political spectrum.”

Wright added: “Some people look at these stories and take a 1 percent versus the 99 percent perspective, which can be read something as a left-leaning perspective. I think others look at this and they view it from a more right-leaning perspective as a condemnation of government. Others may look at it as a validation of a need for strong allegiance to the Second Amendment. So it’s non-discriminatory.”

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com

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