So, The Hunger Games, talk about a bait and switch. I didn’t read the books but I made sure to see the movie because I thought it was about a sassy independent woman named Katniss who is trying to diet down to her birth weight to win the love of Gale, a blood diamond magnate, all while being plied with carbs by a sinister doll-faced baker who harbors a slightly creepy love. Apparently, I was wrong. I am using italics to telegraph my disapproval.
Despite the italics, I did enjoy The Hunger Games. I love any movie about food. And I know that The Hunger Games is not technically about food so much as it’s about a totalitarian state that has lost its humanity to an obsession with status, leisure and possessions. Or whatever. But I try not to pay attention to that and focus on the food. Trust me, if you take away the carnage, The Hunger Games is basically an episode of Chopped.
Anyway, to kick off the Thanksgiving holiday, I went to see the Hunger Games sequel, Catching Fire. I felt it was an appropriate choice given that Thanksgiving is the greatest eating holiday of the year. I enjoyed it too, even though there was much less food in it. It was like my favorite episode of Lost plus my favorite episode of Project: Runway plus Stanley Tucci’s cackle times two hours of unrelenting human cruelty. So, a great time for the whole family.
Best part, that bit where the island starts spinning. Thrilling! I was like, “Oh, I know what’s happening, Desmond forgot to put the numbers into the computer on time. Katniss needs to go to the Swan station and punch in 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, and 42 and then Capote will stop spinning the island. That crazy Capote.”
When they make a Hunger Games amusement park I hope that’s one of the rides. But, now that I think about it (I try not to put any thought whatsoever into what I write before I write it. That’s my process.) a Hunger Games amusement park is the absolute last place on Earth I’d like to go. 1) Everything will probably kill you; 2) The concession stands will likely be empty.
Speaking of the Capitol, can we talk about Capote some more? When Plutarch Heavensbee (Lord, these names. So ethnic!) showed up I was like, “Is Phillip Seymour Hoffman confused? Why is he not wearing a costume? Did he just wander on to the set after teaching a class at Fordham called ‘Symposium on Rumples and Sighs’? Is he cameoing as himself? ” Elizabeth Banks spent 6 hours in the makeup chair (those eyelashes! I die!) and he’s picking a blazer from his personal collection, running a comb through his hair and showing up looking non-plussed. There are no plusses in that scene. He’s like “Hi, I’m Oscar-winner Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Pleased to meet me. Where do I stand? Never mind; doesn’t matter. I’ll stand wherever I want.” Meanwhile, Oscar-winner Jennifer Lawrence is dressed like a character from Zoobilee Zoo and going through the nine stages of struggleface and Elizabeth Banks is in the background lip-synching for her life. She is giving you everything! Hair! Glitter! Curtains! Sashay, you stay, Banks.
I do find it confusing that her character’s name is Effie Trinket because I always think of Effie White from Dreamgirls and then I think Is JHud here? IS JHUD GOING TO SING?! Which is, I guess, my one criticism of the Hunger Games movies: they don’t have enough moments where JHud enters, the screen goes dark, she looks directly into the camera and sings the hell out of a ballad. Maybe in Mockingjay.
Despite my love for Effie, I think my favorite character is Peeta because in every scene his primary motivation is to get back to baking bread. This is a man who has priorities (And a pretty, pretty face. And absolutely no survival skills. But such a pretty face.) His life is on the line and he’s like “Challah anyone? Freshly baked challah.”
My second favorite character is Finnick, a man who just fucking eats sugar cubes because he can. This guy knows how to live. Plus, he’s like a strangely appealing tornado of sex appeal, cuddly grandma love, and probably diabetes. That’s exactly what I search for on OkCupid ever damn day. As God as my witness, one day I will be Mrs. Finnick O’Dair-Thomas and we will feast on sugar cubes and wear rock candy necklaces forever!
My least favorite characters are Rue and Beede because I imagined them as blacker.
I’m kidding, INTERNET.
Anyway, what am I talking about? This post isn’t even about the Hunger Games; it’s about food. TWIST! ::cue Lost sound effect and tinkling bells::
Actually, can I be serious for a minute? I know this blog isn’t really the place for seriousness, but I do have a rather sober thought.
Wait, before I get serious, I just want to say that my favorite scene in Catching Fire is the one where Peeta gets electrified and Finnick has to give him CPR because obviously. I love how they edited it so craftily; one gets the impression that Finnick is giving Peeta mouth-to-mouth but there isn’t ever a clear shot of it. Probably because the GIF of their lips touching would break the internet. When I become an overnight singing sensation I’m going to perform at the VMAs in front of a video where Finnick breathes life into Peeta’s obviously Burt’s Bees’ smothered lips on loop.
Okay, now seriousness.
Just kidding! Here’s a GIF of a cat who was shocked by my sudden change of topic!
But seriously. Catching Fire was surprisingly heavy. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at how heavy it was; it’s a movie about kids locked in a stadium and told to kill each other. I’m just saying, it’s not exactly Best Man Holiday. It’s weird to claim that I enjoyed a movie that I grimaced through the whole time. And I kind of wonder what it says about our culture that this mentally taxing, dystopian film is such a massive blockbuster.
I found the scene where Gale was whipped to be especially disturbing. It took me by surprise, too. This was the first time I’d seen on-screen whipping since seeing 12 Years A Slave and the combined effect of those two paeans to human darkness really threw me for a loop.
I saw 12 Years the week before. For a month everyone my Facebook had been saying “Oh, you must see this movie! It will destroy you.” But I couldn’t really find a clear spot in my schedule for utter psychological collapse until mid-way through November.
I’ve been trying for weeks to find words to write about the movie but I think I’m just going to give up. It destroyed me. And there’s absolutely no way I can write about it on my ridiculous whimsical blog. I sat, hunched forward, arms crossed through the entire movie. I held my breath. It was oppressive. And the minute the screen went blank and the credits started, I burst into tears. Like sobbing. It would’ve been embarrassing except the theater was full of crying people. The place was a disaster. Even as I fell forward, keening, I started thinking about the kids at the concessions stand. What must it be like to work at a place where every 2 and a half hours, 100 people have complete breakdowns? It was like a psych ward.
I could not stop crying. My friend Daniel sat next to me and rubbed my arm. I’m glad he was there because what I really wanted to do was lie down on the floor and ugly cry. Like I desperately wanted to melt out of my chair and just lay my face in the puddle of tears and popcorn butter and mourn.
I want so much to write about that movie but I just… I have no words. So, I’ll tell you this Thanksgiving story instead:
As every year, I had Thanksgiving at my parents house. In the past, I’ve gotten in trouble for “talking to my friends on the Internet” about the people who gave birth to me, so let’s say I’m not talking about my parents. Let’s say I’m talking about Cliff and Clair Huxtable from The Cosby Show. Anyway, it was a nice intimate dinner, just Cliff and Clair, my brother Theo and me, Lisa Bonet.
My mother cooks every year, using recipes from a huge binder that she’s been compiling since before I was born. Every year she makes the same thing, so the binder isn’t full of new recipes but rather the same recipes copied over. My grandmother’s rolls recipe in her handwriting, then in my mother’s handwriting, then typed. My aunt’s orange jello recipe photocopied, revised. The stuffing recipe in my mother’s perfect penmanship, then in my teenage scrawl from the year I was entrusted with making it and decided to revise it, then the same recipe typed up from the year we got a computer and a printer.
My mother makes and revises a schedule for Thanksgiving dinner preparation every year, mapping out her plan up to a week in advance. And she saves each year’s schedule, and each year the binder grows. In the back of the binder she keeps the Christmas recipes, the Christmas schedules and every person’s Christmas wish list from every year. And so the binder has become a sort of family history through food, a beautiful scrapbook of our traditions. Nowadays, when we don’t see each other but a few times a year, the binder represents the thread that ties us together even when we’re physically apart.
After dinner this year, Theo went to work (he’s a detective, like a real one, not just a nosey person who watches too much of The Closer like I am) and Cliff and Clair and I retired to the living room to watch TV. Clair had DVR’d an episode of The Big Bang Theory that she really wanted me to watch. Like, she was serious about it. She’d texted me twice to let me know we’d be watching it. After that episode, we switched to TVOne where they were playing old Thanksgiving episodes from The Cosby Show, A Different World, and Living Single.
I was immediately taken back to a time when my conception of the world, of my place in the world as a black person, was shaped by the people I saw on TV. Inasmuch as 12 Years A Slave destroyed me, The Cosby Show made me by portraying a black family that loved each other, laughed with each other, and wasn’t weighed by oppression. It was liberating and it created a place for me that didn’t exist in the world I knew outside of our happy, literate, talkative home.
Similarly, A Different World created a cultural reference point that, with every episode, made me feel more and more in touch with–for lack of a better term–my people. On the night that Whitley was supposed to get married and Dwayne Wayne burst into the ceremony and objected, Clair and I were at Security Square Mall (the black mall), and we stood at the window of a Montgomery Ward store with a crowd of maybe 15, 20 other people watching the now-iconic scene take place, watching Diahann Carroll scream “Die, just die” as Dwayne came running down the aisle. The store manager turned off the TVs just before the end of the episode because they were closing so, of course, we rioted.
At my parents’ house, we eat Thanksgiving dinner at a big wooden table. Just before we sat down, my mother came in and surveyed the room. “Oh no! I didn’t even put on the nice tablecloth,” she said. I replied. “It’s fine. No need to put on airs.” She said to me, “At my age, airs means gas.” We sometimes speak in punchlines.
We all sat down to eat, my father said grace, and we dug in. We talked about work, we talked about my other brother’s newborn baby, we told old stories we’ve all heard before. We re-wove the fabric of our history, our present and our future, over food.
On the wall behind the big wooden table, my mother has mounted two photographs of a dilapidated gray shack. This is the slave cabin that my great-grandfather was born in. It still stands today in Virginia. My mother and father visited about 10 years ago. It’s no bigger than a common half-bathroom. It’s slats don’t look like they kept out the wind or the rain or the heat. I sat at my parents table, beneath this picture, eating the food that symbolizes our shared heritage, and as with every year I felt the loving embrace of my childhood home, the familiarity of old patterns, the excitement of new ideas. But more than anything I felt grateful. I felt grateful to be free.