The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1, the latest and most violent and mature entry so far in the smash-hit franchise, begins playing in movie theaters around the world this week. In this year’s installment, the revolution is underway against the oppressive, child-slaughtering Capitol. In the real world, The Hunger Games has served as inspiration for at least one group of protesters and activists.
On Wednesday, several students were arrested after greeting Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha with the same three-finger salute used by dissidents in The Hunger Games series. The student protesters from Khon Kaen University were then taken by police and soldiers to the Sri Patcharin military camp to undergo an “attitude adjustment.”
The next day, three more students were detained in Bangkok after being escorted out of a high-end cinema. One of the students flashed the salute while standing in front of a large Mockingjay poster:
A Bangkok theater chain subsequently canceled its planned screenings of the new film.
Thailand has endured its fair share of political instability, violence, and crackdowns since a coup in 2006 that ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. (Thailand has had a lousy track record with functioning democracy for many decades.) The students were protesting the May 22 military coup that brought a junta and Gen. Prayut to power. The coup caused the Obama administration to review its military aid to Thailand, and led to the predictable crackdowns on dissent in the country.
The junta isn’t known for its sense of humor when it comes to popular culture. For example, it views comedian and Last Week Tonight host John Oliver as a credible threat to the Thai power structure. When opponents of the coup began adopting the Hunger Games salute as a sign of protest months ago, the junta started kicking around the idea of outright banning the three-finger salute.
The Hunger Games franchise is already a deeply political saga, chronicling a growing rebellion against a tyrannical regime. (In the second film, Catching Fire, an unarmed man is publicly and summarily executed within seconds of giving the three-finger show of solidarity.) But this is a situation in which the films have influenced the behavior of young pro-democracy activists in real life. The people behind the new film, however, have been silent on the issue. (Update: On Friday, BuzzFeed News posted a story including comments from some of the Mockingjay filmmakers—such as director Francis Lawrence—regarding the protesters.)
Lionsgate, Mockingjay’s distributor and production company, has declined to comment when asked about the protests and the canceled screenings. The cast has yet to weigh in. (Jennifer Lawrence’s publicist did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.) A representative for Suzanne Collins—who wrote the books on which the films are based—said Collins would not be commenting on the student protests and actions of the junta. (Collins has a policy of generally not commenting on Hunger Games-related matters, anyway.)
It’s not hard to understand why these people have been keeping their mouths shut. They’re in the business of making money and entertainment, not calling for democratic reforms in Southeast Asia. Many might not even have the foggiest clue what’s been happening in the Kingdom of Thailand. But Brad Adams, executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, isn’t buying that excuse.
“The Thai military is making the Chinese communist party look liberal right now,” Adams told The Daily Beast. “It’s laughable. They’re being a parody of themselves by arresting people for using a Hunger Games three-finger salute.”
Adams argues that both the company and the artists—the director, Collins, Lawrence, all of them—now have an obligation to read up on what’s going on and speak up, especially because their movie has become at least somewhat associated with the demonstrators.
“It’s pathetic that they don’t speak out because in the modern world, with global communications, they have a responsibility to educate themselves,” he said. “They are betraying people who are essentially playing real-life versions of the protagonists in the film… It shouldn’t be that hard for them to put out a statement. They should all speak up, they inspired people, and they should stand with them.”
Now, that would be something. If J-Law suddenly decided to declare solidarity with Thai anti-junta activists?
Well, there’s still time.
This post has been updated.