'Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1' Renews Heated Political Debate

Does the film promote the values of Occupy Wall Street, or the Tea Party?

As if on cue, the release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 has sparked an online political debate, as did the first two films in Lionsgate's huge franchise. This time around though, the left seems more anxious to claim solidarity with the movie's message than does the right.

At the conservative site Breitbart.com, for example, John Nolte largely ignores politics in his review of Mockingjay - Part 1, until ending with: "For some reason this feels like the exact right time for a movie about a revolution against a lying, lawless president."

Likewise, Christian Toto, at his conservative site, Hollywood In Toto, largely foregoes politics, though only after opening his review with: "The first two films could be seen as either big government on dictatorial steroids or an Occupy-style lament about the evils of inequality. The franchise's third film … doesn't change that formula despite the addition of liberal screenwriter Danny Strong."

Toto's line sums up the debate, even if many on the left and the right are unaware of the other side's argument, which seems to have been the case, initially at least, with Sarah Seltzer, who laments at Flavorwire: "I assumed The Hunger Games was a rallying cry for like-minded progressives and radicals. This was thanks to its pretty upfront indictment of state-inflicted violence and, in particular, of hunger caused by gross economic inequality. 'Occupy Panem!' I thought. 'Redistribute the Wealth!' But then I learned that the Tea Party dug its message, too, and saw the Capitol as a perfect metaphor for the Obama administration."

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She seems particularly disturbed that, between the release of the first and second Hunger Games films, a group called The Tea Party Patriots held a Hunger Games-themed youth event and even made a short film based on the franchise, where young rebels do battle with statists who try to control the populace through handouts and regulations.

In her Flavorwire article, Seltzer goes to great lengths to determine whether lead character Katniss Everdeen is progressive, Tea Party or anarchist. "If Katniss is a flinty anarchist with a libertarian streak (and Gale is a total mansplaining manarchist, albeit a hot one), then I'd have to say that Peeta is a kindly socialist who yearns to feed the masses with bread," she writes.

Last year actor Donald Sutherland, who plays the evil President Snow in the Hunger Games movies, was also surprised to learn of a conservative interpretation. "Could someone from the Tea Party sit down and look at this and think of President Snow as, say, President Obama?" a writer for ScreenRant asked. "No chance," Sutherland said.

But then he thought about the question for a while before dismissing millions of conservatives as racists. "Oh, I see what you're saying," Sutherland said. "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."

Perhaps getting the most attention this time around is an article called "Hunger Games, a mirror of America's inequality," at CNN by Van Jones, a former green jobs adviser to Obama and a favorite target of conservative commentator Glenn Beck. Jones writes that "the real reason Hunger Games has captured public imagination is that its fictional world of Panem is, in so many ways, an extreme version of our own America."

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Jones sees left-wing parallels everywhere — invoking labor disputes, the energy industry, pollution, Wall Street hedge funds and real-life civil unrest. "Nonviolent protestors gather. Riot police stand by threateningly. Residents raise their hands in the air in a potent symbol of freedom. The police crack down brutally. It should look like science fiction. Instead … it looks just like Ferguson," he writes.

He also writes that the Hunger Games movies are "a tale of how the worst of the 1 percent pull up the ladders of opportunity behind them, and hoard wealth to such a degree that all of society is poorer for it. It is Occupy's 'We are the 99 percent,' on Hollywood's big screen."

And then there's Andrew O'Hehir, who tried dissecting the politics of the The Hunger Games: Catching Fire a year ago and does likewise with Mockingjay - Part 1.

"There are many reasons to describe The Hunger Games as a work of calculated genius, but one reason is that its parable of Empire and Resistance feels relevant without being specific, and appeals equally to anarchists and Tea Partyers," O'Hehir writes.

Email: Paul.Bond@THR.com

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