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Although the 2020 pandemic crippled the world, protests around the globe continued. In Hong Kong, protesters continued to protest against China’s security law. Thousands of people protested the government in Thailand. Protesters recently took to the streets in Myanmar to condemn the military coup.
Aside from the aim of rolling back tyranny, the three major protests had something in common: the protesters openly made the three-finger salute from the series The Hunger Games. The gesture has become a common sight in many pro-democratic protests in Asia and has since become a symbol of resistance to tyranny in the region.
Apparitions and the meaning of the three-finger greeting in the Hunger Games books
The three-finger salute first appears in The Hunger Games book when Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist, volunteers for her sister Primrose at the 74th Hunger Games. “First one, then another, then almost everyone in the crowd takes the three middle fingers of their left hand to their lips and holds them out to me,” writes author Suzanne Collins. According to the book, it’s an ancient and rarely used gesture from District 12 and is seen occasionally at funerals. It can mean “thank you,” “admiration,” and “goodbye to a loved one.”
It reappears later in the book when Katniss pays her respects to Rue, another tribute who dies while helping her in the arena. “I press the three middle fingers of my left hand against my lips and stretch them in their direction. Then I go away without looking back, ”it says. The same scene also occurs in the film, but Katniss makes the gesture straight into the camera. Then the residents of District 11 follow suit, causing a riot.
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The three-finger salute is also mentioned in the second book, Catching Fire. When Katniss visits District 11 to deliver a speech in memory of Rue, the crowd makes the gesture. “Everyone in the crowd presses the three middle fingers of their left hand against their lips and extends them towards me,” says the book.
However, Katniss fails to realize that the innocent act she does to show respect to loved ones becomes dangerous – a symbol of the silent rebellion against the Capitol. The three-finger salute is sometimes accompanied by the four-note Mockingjay melody, and whoever initiates it in the crowd in District 11 is shot in the head.
The three-finger salute became very popular when the 2014 film adaptation of Catching Fire, starring Jennifer Lawrence, came out.
Still, the gesture doesn’t actually come from the series The Hunger Games. It has been used by members of Boy Scout and Boy Scout organizations around the world since 1908. For them it means a different concept that has nothing to do with resistance.
The three-finger greeting takes on a new meaning
The three-finger salute was first adopted by demonstrators in Thailand during the May 2014 coup. During this time, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 was shown. Several youths made the gesture publicly against the military junta, which led to their arrest. The junta saw it as a threat and the gesture was eventually banned.
The three-finger salute was also borrowed from demonstrators in Hong Kong in 2014. In the Philippines, it was used by critics of the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in 2017. Since then he has not appeared in the said country. It was revived by protesters in Thailand in 2020. It was only used this year by protesters in Myanmar.
The three-finger greeting, which has a similar meaning to the raised fist, has meanwhile become a symbol for democracy protests in Asia.
What Suzanne Collins and the film producers think
The Hunger Games series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. Although the books and their cinematic counterparts are influential among young people in today’s political landscape, Suzanne Collins did not comment on the protests.
In an article published in 2017 by The Daily Beast, a representative for Collins said the author would not comment on the student protests or the actions of the Thai military junta. The article also mentioned that Collins generally has no comments on matters related to the series The Hunger Games.
Five years later, as more and more protesters in different countries adopted the controversial gesture from the books, Collins has not changed her position.
When the protests ignited in Thailand in 2014, the team behind the Mockingjay film initially remained silent.
“You are cheating on people who are essentially playing real-life versions of the main characters in the film … you should all speak out, you should inspire people and you should stand by them,” Brad Adams, executive director of Asia for Human Rights Watch, told im Conversation with The Daily Beast.
Finally, the producer of the first two films, Nina Jacobson, spoke up. “I find it moving that our film has become part of a language of resistance,” she told BuzzFeed News in 2014.
Jacobson said in a recent interview with CBS News that “she never imagined the films would have such an impact on real life”.