[INTERVIEW] ‘Hunger Games” Amandla Stenberg Kicks Off Our Top 12 Lessons from Panem!

Photo: Amandla Stenberg. (Hunger Games)

It’s 3:30am and I’m all tracker-jackered on Cherry Coke, peanut butter M&Ms, popcorn, and, oh yeah, THE HUNGER GAMES. I just left a packed midnight show full of Panem fandom (there were actually 3 theatres completely crammed for opening night). A giddy sorority took up like two rows. This one #TeamPeeta girl rocked a homemade “I love The Boy With Bread” t-shirt. Toy arrows flew through the air. And there were a butt-ton of braids. Mine included.

For the next 2 hours and 22 minutes, we were not let down. Sure, there were things I would change (more Gale!) or particular parts of the book I missed (more Gale!), but the main takeaway was Jennifer Lawrence is FIERCE as Katniss and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta totally surprised me with the delicate balance of bravery and sensitivity he created. Also, did I mention Gale (Liam Hemsworth) is HAWT?!

But I digress. I’m here to give you a rundown of the top 12 issues (one for each district!) that serve as the moral foundation of this thought-provoking movie. To get us started, we asked adorable newcomer Amandla Stenberg who plays District 11 Tribute and the Games’ resident tree sprite Rue, to tell us about No Kid Hungry, a movement to end empty tummies for American children, that she’s been tweeting about — plus, she reveals what’s the most important lesson she hopes YOU learn when you hit up HG in a theater near you:

Act: How did you get involved with No Kid Hungry? Was it through your role as Rue in The Hunger Games or were you involved with the organization before? Why did you decide to work with them?

Amandla: I first heard about No Kid Hungry last fall when they approached me about helping out. I was impressed with all the work they were doing and said yes right way because it’s such a good cause. Food is such a basic human need. And I just know that we can provide for every kid in this country.

What do you think are the most important issues that Hunger Games raises for young fans? What do you hope the young audience who will be cramming into theatres this weekend will learn or take away from the film?

I think The Hunger games has a really powerful message about survival, and sacrificing for the ones you love. It’s almost like a warning for us to not loose touch of our humanity. We live in a world in which we watch other’s misfortunes for entertainment. Every year our outfits and makeup get more ridiculous. I feel as if the world that Suzanne Collins created is like an exaggerated take on that. Katniss is a fantastic heroine as well. She’s hardworking, passionate, and she takes responsibility, and I think she’s a great role model for girls. I hope that’s what fans take away.

What do you think is the best way a young person who loves Hunger Games can get involved to make a difference?

I think sometimes young people become discouraged because they think that what they do is just a drop in the bucket and won’t make a different. But really, every little bit counts. Your actions can have a much larger impact than you think. So find something you really care about, because when you’re passionate about something, you will give it your all.

Aiiiiight, Amandla got y’all warmed up for Action, so let’s breakdown the top 12 issues and causes that come to life (and death) in the 74 Hunger Games…(WARNING: there might be some spoilerish comments below if you haven’t read the books!)

12. Born to Bully

What if the bullies on your bus were actually trained killers? Meet District 1 Tributes Cato and Clove, the Games most violent participants. The deadly damage these two cause when they’re finally unleashed in the Arena for the infamous Cornucopia bloodbath scene is seriously hard to watch. And while HG creates an extreme example, after watching the powerful trailer for Bully (help repeal that R-rating!), the life-or-death stakes that Panem presents are scarily similar to our own reality.

11. Girl Power

FINALLY. A heroine who doesn’t need any saving. No matter what’s thrown at her (ya know, like, FIREBALLS and stuff), she never calls for backup. There’s a real lack of strong female protagonists that young girls can believe in, so we gotta give it up for Katniss — a badass teen survivalist who takes care of herself, and those she loves, with wit and grit while still maintaining her human dignity. No wonder President Snow is so scared of The Girl on Fire.

10. The Painful Price of Beauty

When Katniss first arrives in Panem’s opulent seat of power, she is immediately whisked away to be pressure washed, plucked, waxed and buffed before submitting herself to an Extreme Capitol Makeover. Honestly, it’s not that far off from the insane things we all do to look like some freakishly Photoshopped model from a magazine. Eating disorders, plastic surgery, harsh chemicals, crazy pills, expensive products — it’s all in the pursuit of some image-driven ideal. Katniss has to play pretty to survive, but do you?

 9. Land of the Un-Free

Panem is an ultra-repressed society where the wrong word can get you killed — and if Katniss and Peeta don’t fully understand this reality before they hop on the anti-Hogwarts Express (nothing magical about that ride to doom), they certainly do once they land in the Capitol and meet the cruel political puppeteers who rule their country through fear and force. These brutal conditions echo those of iron-fisted regimes all over the world that deny their citizens basic freedoms, like Syria, Burma and Sudan.

 8. 99% vs 1%

The opening scenes of the film introduce us to the dilapidated shantytown that Katniss calls home, confirming what we already knew from the trailer — Katniss, Peeta and Gale live in a world of the Have-Nots. All those multi-colored Nicki-Minaj-lookalikes in the Capitol? The Haves. Occupy Wall Street captured the world’s attention by raising the rebel flag of economic injustice through its global tent city protests that popped up everywhere from Barcelona to Boston — in Panem, the 99% start their revolution with something simple: a three-finger salute.

7. This is War

Bottom line: The Hunger Games is a war story. And as many of us conveniently forget in our comfy lives far from the frontlines, we are a nation at war. When Katniss runs terrified through a forest set aflame by sicko Gamechanger Seneca Crane, the scene is not that different than the charred aftermath of a drone attack in an Afghan village. Collins wants us to face the harsh truth of war because only then will we truly fight to avoid fighting.

6. America’s Next Top Tribute

At the heart of The Hunger Games is one totally twisted reality TV show — complete with the grinning host (an AMAZEBALLS Stanley Tucci as the Capitol’s Ryan Seacrest, Caesar Flickerman), drama-filled cast, rabid viewers and manipulative production team. But instead of just getting kicked off an island and losing the cash money, these kids are losing their lives. Collins clearly wanted readers to examine our appetite for humiliating and dehumanizing entertainment, and where it can lead us.

5. Media Manipulation

The Capitol is all about controlling the message – the creepy video that Effie shows at District 12’s reaping is the perf example of the kinda BS they want Panem’s broken population to believe. (They don’t.) But anyone who dares screw with their carefully orchestrated, and totally sinister, political plotline betta back off, or President Snow is gonna bring the pain. Or worse, the hope.

4. The Deadliest Science Fair

The Capitol also has developed highly evolved ways to kill — mutations, tracker jackers — and heal — those crazy miracle salves parachuted to Katniss and Peeta. Our own advancements in science and technology have also lead to unspeakable horror — think Hiroshima — and joy — like the Chilean miner rescue. We gotta use our knowledge for good or the consequences can be devastating.

3. Privacy Settings

Cameras in trees. Massive airships hovering overhead. Peacekeepers on the streets. If Panem is just one big stakeout, the Arena is like Big Brother times a bajillion. Every move that the Tributes make is tracked (they literally insert a homing device in their arm) so that Games HQ can make sure they don’t stay safe for long. Debates rage in our own country over the Patriot Act, so which do you think is more important: individual rights or national security?

 2. First-Person Shooter

Turning murder into a live action game seems totally insane, but Collins actually pulled from history to paint her disturbing picture of a futuristic District death match  — remember those Roman Gladiators? (Okay, fine, remember that Russell Crowe movie? With me now?) With the crazy success of shoot ‘em up video games and general desensitization of violence across every medium, many of us don’t even flinch at graphic gore anymore.

1. I Volunteer!

When her sister’s name is called at The Reaping, Katniss courageously announces that she will take her place in the Arena. To protect what she loves, she puts herself on the line. Whenever I see that scene, I think of the countless young men and women who actively offer up their service to defend our country. The U.S. hasn’t had a draft since 1973 — although there is debate that it should be reinstated — so we got no idea what it would be like to be forced into camos.

Hunger Games may be YA, but all this stuff? It’s no child’s play. The cast of this film really bring the book’s issues to life onscreen and it’s super powerful — so show your love for Panem by taking Action below!

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