Set in a dystopian alternate version of the United States, the Hunger Games books and films follow reluctant heroine Katniss Everdeen as she becomes a symbol of hope for the oppressed people of Panem, who are forced to offer up two children every year to be brutally sacrificed in the name of entertainment, and to make 'reparations' for a past rebellion. This weekend will see the release of the final film in the series, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2, in which Katniss and the rest of the rebels make one final push to topple the regime of President Snow.
The Hunger Games is commonly cited as evidence that action franchises with female leads can be extremely successful, and lead Jennifer Lawrence has become one of the most sought-after young stars of her generation. It's ironic, then, that there are parts of the world where she can't even be featured on the posters because of her gender.
A report by ynet (via Haaretz) has drawn attention to Katniss Everdeen being "deemed unkosher" in the ultra-Orthodox Israeli cities of Jerusalem and Bnei Brak. While posters hung up in other areas of Israel show Lawrence posed heroically in her Mockingjay outfit, only posters featuring the fiery Mockingjay pin have been displayed in these densely populated cities.
The reasons for this are different for each city. Liron Suissa, the VP of marketing company Nu Star Media, explained that a similar approach has had to be taken for other movies with female leads. Movie posters featuring female characters have been subject to "endless vandalization" and are frequently torn down, so Nu Star Media recommend that clients avoid hanging these types of posters in Jerusalem. In Bnei Brak, studios don't even have a choice in the matter, since a local municipal regulation prevents any posters featuring women from being displayed.
It's not the first time that the films' political themes have crossed over into the real world. Following the release of The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 last year, several student protesters in Thailand were arrested for using the three-finger salute that is a symbol of Panem's Second Rebellion. The students flashed the sign in protest during a speech by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, who became head of Thailand's military government after the coup in May 2014. They had also bought hundreds of tickets to the film that they'd planned to hand out for free, but the theater chain canceled all screenings following the arrests.
Studios face many challenges when planning the release of Hollywood blockbusters in theaters across the globe. What might be uncontroversial in the USA can have a radically different response when introduced in other cultures. In the past, changes made have extended far beyond the marketing level; for example, a different version of Iron Man 3 was released in China that included additional footage designed to cater to Chinese audiences.
It's worth noting that, despite these restrictions in ultra-Orthodox cities, the Hunger Games movies do seem to be pretty popular with Israeli moviegoers overall; the two films released theatrically in Israel so far have collectively grossed over $6.3 million at the box office. Uri Regev - the head of nonprofit organization Hiddush, which campaigns for religious freedom and equality in Israel - said that, "It is difficult to estimate the damage that capitulation to extremism does to the Jewish faith." He added, "We need to make clear that there is absolutely no connection between Judaism and censorship of the image of Katniss Everdeen."
The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 2 arrives in theaters on November 20th, 2015.