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The Resurgence of The Hunger Games

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past year (or ten), you’re more than aware of the popular dystopian series The Hunger Games, originally written by Suzanne Collins. Set in a future version of North America, the story takes place across the span of three books, telling of how young children from each district of Panem are picked, or “reaped”, to enter arenas where they must fight to the death. The winner then gets the spoils sent to their family as well as their entire district. This whole ordeal is conducted by The Capitol, which is this world’s version of a government, as a form of punishment for the district’s past rebellion against them. The first film of the series premiered on March 23, 2012, only four years after the first book appeared on shelves, and garnered a massive fanbase. This only added to the already ginormous audience that had existed prior due to the brilliance of the novels. Now, just over ten years later, the world of Panem is back in both page and screen form.

Collins is ingenious in the way that she not only crafts her stories but, also, sells them. She makes sure she has a base first- the novel- before moving on to the film aspect. Now, I only say that because that is exactly what she did for her prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. That may not have been her plan for the original series yet to see it continue to pan out in this form is not only spectacular but incredibly smart. With the popularity that The Hunger Games saw and continued to see even after its prime, Collins very well could’ve ridden that wave and jumped straight into making a movie (like we’ve seen many other franchises do…). Instead, she put just the same thought and care into bringing this world alive right in front of our eyes once again.

With that being said, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes book was released on May 19th, 2020, and, right from the start, a film adaptation was already in the works. Casting was announced in 2022, with Tom Blyth and Rachel Zegler being at the helm of the franchise’s rebirth, and, soon after, shooting began. With the film’s official release date set for November 17th, 2023, the cast, crew, and fans alike were ready to see the much-anticipated return of Panem to the big screen.

Alas, the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes began in May and July. Writers and actors were vying for fair wages and proper policies, as they should, but, sadly, that came at the cost of sharing their excitement for the very projects that they were a part of. What this meant was: no social media promotion, no interviews, no press releases, and no red carpets or premieres for those who starred in said films or television shows. A slew of new media was affected by this, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes being one of them. It was up to the dedicated fans and Lionsgate themselves to promote the film.

And promote they did.

Lionsgate began doing events across different cities to spread the word about the new film coming out. They had giveaways, art contests, a sign-up to receive text messages from “the Academy” (the fictional school that students who live in the Capitol and are well-off attend), clues to piece together for when new trailers would release, character posters, you name it. I even attended one of these events in New York City! It was held early in the morning outside of the Good Morning America building in Times Square. Academy students were there giving out all of the character posters, a movie-tie-in version of the novel, and a white rose to every single one of us who attended. We then got to be on Good Morning America briefly as we watched the trailer premiere in real time!

But, it’s the fans that truly helped spread the word about the film, about the events, and about the silly little TikToks that Lionsgate was creating. There was actually a group of fans, nicknamed the “Gems of Panem”, who were instrumental during this time! I decided to text my friend, Nicole (known online as @dearestmockingjay), who was one of these super cool people, to ask her what it was like being the spearhead of promotion, making sure that the new installment to The Hunger Games series got the publicity it deserved.

“What I love about The Hunger Games Series is that the fans have always been key to keeping the momentum going. Generally, I feel like this is especially true now more than ever when it comes to films and shows in some way through fan-driven engagement/involvement, but with [The Hunger Games] franchise specifically, the fandom of over a decade still going strong is something that I think was an advantage that the new Hunger Games film had whilst the strike was going on.

I’ve been running a [The Hunger Games] fan account on Instagram since 2013, which led to me being given the opportunity in 2023 to become a part of the Gems of Panem (the name given to a small community of [The Hunger Games] fans formed by Lionsgate). Prior to any of this, I was regularly posting to my fan account about all things Hunger Games, including my love and excitement for The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

After SAG-AFTRA joined the WGA on the picket lines right before [The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes] could kick off its press tour and promo season, I made sure to tread carefully; as a [The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes] fan, I wanted to keep the hype for the movie-going where it was appropriate so that I also still stood in solidarity with the actors and writers.

With the lack of promotion and content being put out as a result of the strike, I went about doing what I would’ve done regardless of the strike happening or not, which was create/share relevant fan-made content to my socials to try and reach its target audiences and engage the general social media community. The Gems of Panem were never necessarily tasked with being responsible for promotion prior to or during the strike but rather given the freedom to post at their own leisure/judgment. For myself, I regularly gathered [The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes] articles, interviews, featurettes, clips, etc. as they became available so that I could share them with other fans and keep the excitement for the film going. As I mentioned earlier, the fans are key to keeping the momentum going and this was definitely the case here amidst the strike and inability of the actors to promote their work. 

As someone who was around while The Hunger Games movies were rolling out in the 2010s, it feels as if a good amount of the marketing for these movies has always been fan-driven, given the size and dedication of the fandom, and so being a sort of spearhead of promotion for [The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes] felt very normal (while also a bit intimidating and difficult given the limitations that the strike placed). I liked how posting edits and getting excited over new content served as a source of indirect promotion for the film on the side so it never really felt like I was obligated or forced to promote it. I was just a fan who wanted to see this film succeed and get the recognition it deserved for the sake of the cast, crew, and everyone else involved who could not speak about it at the time.

-Nicole, @dearestmockingjay

It’s absolutely incredible to hear about the dedication and support that this fanbase has. And, in case you’re wondering, Lionsgate was well aware of fans’ efforts! All of the Gems of Panem were sent goodies as the promotional period went on and were even invited to attend the world premiere of the movie! It goes to show that, even years after the first film, and the first book at that, were released, people still take part in sharing their love for this world that Suzanne Collins has constructed. Plus, having The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes release in 2023 and catering towards bringing back the audience that The Hunger Games previously had is wildly clever- the viewers are given another outlet to express their love of this franchise with as they continue to grow up. The similarities between our current society and Panem’s are easier to point out and the dystopian aspect doesn’t seem as dystopian as it used to. To put it quite simply, the audience grows with the franchise as more of the narrative nuances unfold. 

Jumping to October 30th, 2023, the internet was gifted with the great news of an interim agreement between SAG-AFTRA and Lionsgate! This meant that the cast could start participating in promotion immediately, which was so thrilling to hear! Talk shows began to be booked, public appearances were scheduled, and the red carpets were now ready to host the stars. Come November 9th, the strike officially ended and everyone would be able to celebrate the release of their movies freely as well as the achievement of reaching an agreement between SAG-AFTRA and AMPTP.

Once the movie hit theaters, the Hunger Games renaissance only got crazier. Tom Blyth (Coriolanus Snow) covered our screens in TikTok edits while Rachel Zegler’s (Lucy Gray Baird) voice captivated the internet, almost as if she were a siren (to be fair, I would totally dive into the sea for her). And, of course, I can’t forget to include the Josh Hutcherson “Whistle” memes that began to surface around this time (and still pop up on my feed to this day thanks to my friend, John, who spams me with them). The internet was slammed with all things The Hunger Games as the box office numbers only went up. Don’t even get me started on the jaw-dropping outfits and cosplays that people were creating! One of the people I follow on Instagram, @jennysdesignsandcostuming, has created an abundance of costumes from various franchises, one of them being The Hunger Games. From Katniss to the Academy student uniform to Lucy Gray Baird’s iconic dress, Jenny’s creativity knows no bounds.

There are innumerable amounts of fans that have shared their The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes artwork that I wish I could include in this but just trust me when I say that every single one that I come across online is breathtaking. It’s clearer than ever that, like many franchises, the heart of this one lies within the fans. The fire that fuels this story can be attributed to the skill that Suzanne Collins possesses with her pen and the long-lasting love that fans continue to hold for this world.

With the digital release of The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, fans old and new are finally able to add this film to their coveted collection. With that being said, The Hunger Games renaissance is still at hand and doesn’t seem to be slowing anytime soon, especially since it’s awards season! Currently, the People’s Choice Awards has nominated The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes in the Action Movie of the Year category as well as Viola Davis (Dr. Gaul) and Rachel Zegler (Lucy Gray Baird) in BOTH the Action Movie Star of the Year and the Female Movie Star of the Year categories! It’s double crazy to see this happen the same year that Jennifer Lawerence, Katniss Everdeen herself, is also nominated for a People’s Choice Award! Whether they win or not, you can bet that the fans will be there cheering them on. The edits will keep coming, the art will keep flowing, and the love for the series will only grow as more people discover the powerful (albeit twisted) world of Panem.

Written by Ashley Lavalle

Photography by Mark Bluemle

CD/PA: Sophia Querrazzi

Talent: isabel Day Diggins

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