From The Hunger Games To The Hate U Give: A Reality Behind Dystopian YA
Five years ago, the world was preparing for the release of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. It’s hard to fathom now, but Catching Fire was a big deal. It went on to become the highest grossing movie of the year domestically. In 2013, dystopian young adult fiction had a moment. It was hot, and not just with committed fans. That moment was thanks in large part to The Hunger Games films, but they weren’t the only ones. Divergent and The Maze Runner followed in The Hunger Games’ footsteps. These series all featured some heartbreaking deaths and gave fans plenty to discuss.
Now, these series have virtually disappeared. YA fiction still exists, but it’s much more grounded in the real world than it once was. Films like The Hate U Give are about real-world activism. In The Hunger Games, political awakenings come, but in the form of allegory. In the years since The Hunger Games series finished its theatrical run, interest in these stories seems to have declined.
Catching Fire was the series’ high point. Neither of the two films that came afterward lived up to the second film’s critical or box office reception. It seems that interest in the kind of story the series was trying to tell diminished rather quickly. Divergent followed a similar trajectory — though ultimately the series never finished because the third didn’t do very well at the box office.
The Fiction Of Dystopia
The dystopias of these films were meant to act, at a high level, as political allegories. They were stories about the corruptibility of the powerful, and how young people can find a voice in the midst of the repression around them. They were also comfortably contained. These stories had sometimes potent truths about the way the world works, but those truths were couched behind the veil of fiction.
Today, that veil may seem silly. Young people, especially, are feeling the effects of oppression in their lives. That’s why something like The Hunger Games has been replaced by something like The Hate U Give. Both movies function as a call to action. These movies want their viewers to engage in and question their political systems.
The difference between them comes largely from the fact that The Hate U Give doesn’t feel the need to take advantage of metaphors to make its message potent. It argues that these things are happening to real young people in the world we live in today.
What Dystopian YA Meant
The love for dystopian YA came and went quickly, but now, it almost feels like the first step in a political awakening. These movies weren’t meaningless. The Hunger Games series is a potent anti-war story about broken people fighting for causes they may not even believe in. The Maze Runner series, which wrapped up its run in theaters this year, was about sacrifice, and what being a leader costs.
They aren’t as direct as some of the films that came afterward, but they serve as a reminder of what it means to be engaged. In 2018, it can feel like young people are bombarded with messages about activism and its importance in democracy. These series were among the first suggestions that this was the case.
The Reality of Dystopia
These series used fiction to make the idea of dystopia feel more foreign. They were allegories, no matter how potent they were. Now, though, allegory feels totally unnecessary. We don’t need stories to teach us about the rise of fascism or authoritarian regimes. Those things are all around us.
An enormous part of The Hunger Games series is focused on propaganda. The Capitol has an immense amount of power, and they maintain that power through the media. Today, propaganda feels like it’s everywhere. Fox News has justifiably been called a news outlet to soothe the president. It’s as much propaganda as anything airing in Panem.
Even as propaganda becomes a more powerful force in many peoples’ lives, we receive constant reminders that our democracy is not really ours. Voters in Georgia faced disenfranchisement as they attempted to cast ballot in the recent midterm elections. In Florida, 1.4 million disenfranchised ex-felons just regained the right to vote, one that they never should have had to petition for.
The dystopia is here, all around us. There’s no need to watch movies to find it anymore.
A consistent theme in much of the YA fiction that exists today and Young Adult novels of the past is the need to act. No matter the genre trappings it chooses to employ, each of these stories is about fighting back against oppression, and the challenges inherent in doing so. They’re reminders that adulthood is complicated, and growing into a citizen of the world can be a hard, depressing thing to do. And yet, it must be done.
Amandla Stenberg stars in the original Hunger Games and in The Hate U Give. In the former, she’s a young girl thrust into and destroyed by a world she can’t hope to contend with. In the latter, she’s put in a similarly helpless situation. This time, however, she realizes that she has a voice, and she chooses to use it.