The Topics Dystopian Films Won’t Touch

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Movies like The Hunger Games imagine society’s present problems getting worse-except for sexism and racism, which magically disappear in the future.

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Since the release of The Hunger Games in 2012, dystopian cinema has enjoyed sustained interest in American culture. Popular young adult novels are being turned into blockbuster Hollywood films every few months, it seems, and with good reason: Beyond their built-in teen fan base, films like Divergent, The Giver, and The Maze Runner draw on some of adult society’s greatest fears of the moment: Is technology tearing us further apart? Will global warming destroy the planet? Will income inequality further create a world of haves and have-nots?

Critics have worried that these particular films stoke an irrational fear of technology, or a distaste for big government, but dystopian stories have long been celebrated (and used in classrooms across the country) because of their ability to push audiences to think critically about their actions.

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Yet with the upcoming release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, poised to be the biggest film of the year, it’s just as worthwhile to consider what these films don’t seem to fear. While recent dystopias warn youth about over-reliance on computers, totalitarian rule, class warfare, pandemic panics and global warming, very few ask audiences to think deeply about sexism and racism.

Which is strange. If the United States were to truly transform into a totalitarian state, or suffer an environmental catastrophe, it’s safe to say society’s deepest divisions wouldn’t magically disappear overnight. These dystopian adaptations ask their young audiences to imagine that race and gender issues have been partially overcome in the future, while general human suffering has somehow increased. The results feel false, and undercut the films’ attempts to comment on the present day.