I first read the Hunger Games in my early days of parenting, when Olive was a tiny bit of a person with a voracious appetite, and I spent hours in the seated position with her hungrily attached to me. I devoured Suzanne Collins’ words as Olive sucked down milk, both of us satiated — her with a full belly, me with the fullness that only comes from good storytelling. I have awaited the movie version ever since, following the casting and art direction choices avidly, discussing them with my fellow bibliophiles and teenage friends alike. I bought tickets in advance for opening night, taking the opportunity to celebrate a friend’s birthday by taking her out on a date with me that didn’t involve chasing after my toddler, having our conversations interrupted every 5 seconds with requests for milk or more chalk. It was a particularly difficult week, with Olive very sick from teething, and I held on to the promise of Friday night like a beacon in the storm, willing me to hold on in the choppy waters until I could find my way to some respite.
But something unexpected happened this week, that left me particularly raw and open to the story than I ever could have imagined being when I showed up in that theater last night. The news of Trayvon Martin’s murder hit the airwaves like a firebolt from Hell, leaving our country outraged, saddened, and, hopefully, finally awake to the realities of racial profiling and the bitter consequences of institutional racism. When I read his story, I felt deeply grieved, as well as personally convicted and charged to change this country in any way I can. I also felt truly afraid, as all my quiet fears about the deadly repercussions of racism hit home for me. My husband is a young African American man who often wears hoodies. My daughter will one day be a brown teenager on the streets of a city, walking to a store. I can say with our President, a man I am now so proud of that my heart nearly bursts, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” The fact that Trayvon’s family knows that their son’s killer is not in custody is literally making my body shake like a leaf as I write these words.
All of this was at the very forefront of my mind when I took my seat in the movie theater last night along with the other giddy movie goers, some of them even dressed for the opening (there was a girl in full Effie Trinket get-up, it was amazing). I won’t be spoiling anything for you by telling you that The Hunger Games is about a fictional repressive regime that forces children to fight to the death for the enjoyment of the reality-TV-obsessed public. Our government has not ordered any children into such an arena, but our culture of trying, assidiously and ridiculously, to ignore the repercussions of slavery and the very present reality of racism, has led us to a world in which a child is killed while walking to the store, because an adult felt threatened by the way he looked.
There is one death in the Hunger Games that is the emotional climax of the story, and even though I have read the book more than once, and knew exactly what happened, I cried copiously when it was shown in the movie, especially when they showed the reaction of the crowds from the child’s home district — their sadness, rage, and powerlessness. I could not stop thinking about Trayvon, his community, and all parents of black children. Even though it was just a movie, it was real to me, and I could not ignore the correlation to real life — what happens when a culture is taught to turn away from any unpleasantness, to ignore differences rather than celebrate them, and be lulled into a false sense of complacency. In The Hunger Games, the real story is what the children put in a mind-blowingly terrible situation choose to do with the cards they have been unrighteously dealt. I believe that is the story of our nation right now. This is our country. What will we choose, children?