Saturday’s March 24 March for Our Lives included short performances by several singers: Jennifer Hudson (age 36), Miley Cyrus (age 25), Audra Day (33), and Ariana Grande (age 24). We’re going to talk about the women, because the men wore a mix of casual tshirts, jeans, and pants. But the women showed up in a uniform of sorts, and their style choices were part of their message. Even more telling, it is extremely unlikely the stars coordinated their outfits; in fact, Ariana Grande wore a version of the outfit she performed in during her Mancester, U.K. benefit concert in 2017. But three of the female performers — Hudson, Cyrus, and Day — chose to wear versions of the same uniform.
Women in tight black pants — leggings, jeggings, jeans, ponte knit pants — and black-soled flat boots has been a common sight for at least ten years. Partly influenced by style changes in athletic wear (women’s athletic wear has been revolutionized in a way women’s mainstream fashion has not been), partly a holdover from the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s popularity of Doc Marten boots, or version of those — the long-legged “insect woman” look has dominated street wear and casual wear for many years.
But….The optics of the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C. utilized this look in a new, powerful way. I won’t analyze what young people were wearing — they do not need that kind of scrutiny, and it’s unfair and gross to subject them to that level of discussion. Focus on their ideas and arguments. But the female singers — now, there we have something to analyze.
And oh my. First, let’s set the scene. We have performers Jennifer Hudson to the left, Miley Cyrus, center, and Audra Day to the right. All three elected to wear variations of black pants and the similar flat-soled or slightly-heeled combat boots, laced up the front (you can see the top edges of Miley’s peeking up in the frame). All three chose boots that come up to just mid-calf level. All three appear sleek, serious, practical. None are making a statement with their outfits — at least not in the way pop stars are “supposed to” make statements.
The mission statement for the March for Our Lives reads, in part: “The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues. No special interest group, no political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country.”
This is a challenge to power — and importantly, not a challenge of one particular lawmaker, senator, or president. Two targets are named: a special interest group and a political agenda. Voting out one senator, or many, or one particular president, or a series of them, will not rid the nation of the corrupting power at play here. Bipartisan legislation will – it’s a fascinatingly generous approach to claiming power. We need not call any one person out; we instead lay out our terms.
So, back to those outfits. On this blog I wrote about the excellent costume design and also for the ways the costuming showed the maturation of the character Katniss in The Hunger Games trilogy. In particular, Katniss, as she gains power and faces the complexity of corrupted power in Panem, is cloaked in black leggings, a black technical jacket, and flat-bottomed combat boots. This fan-created computer-enhanced image shows the stolid, unemotional gaze of Katniss and the warrior-like appeal of her sleek tactical outfit.
The female performers at the March for Our Lives came out recognizing that these kids — the speakers, the students on the stage, and the hundreds of thousands of kids came to D.C. and over 800 marches around the nation ready to do battle – not with guns or weapons but with passion, faith, and logic and reason. They are ready to tackle the power that is at the core of the gun-violence issue — not invested in specific political leaders but in political agendas enacted by lawmakers under the guidance of special interest groups. As the student speakers said, this is real life. The stakes are real lives. The change is real, inevitable. Either join them, or lose.
I want to turn to thinking about how this played out in the final The Hunger Games film of 2010, Mockingjay. I am by no means suggesting this is at work today, but I am suggesting that the logic of recognizing where power is placed, and the visual vocabulary of the ultimate displacement of that power, as represented in Mockingjay affected how I viewed the actual March for Our Lives. (I drew these screen shots from a youtube clip, Mockingjay Part 2: “Snow’s Execution / Coin’s Death” Scene).
Katniss is to execute former President Coriolanus Snow. Alma Coin, the newly established President, is the successful leader of the rebellion in which Katniss was a principal fighter. Snow, captured after he deliberately gathered the children to his residence to act as human shields, has revealed to Katniss that it was Coin, not himself, that ordered the death of her sister. With this in her mind, Katniss strides into the plaza past massive (CGI-created) crowds of citizens to finally execute Snow and usher in a new era. As Alma Coin says, “Mockingjay — may your aim be as true as your heart is pure.”
And Katniss takes aim, and she shoots her arrow into the heart of Alma Coin, not Snow. For President Coin, corrupt with power, is now the coin of the realm, arguing as she does that peace comes at high cost, that moral principles must be left behind, and that this is how the “real world” works (the same arguments terrible Coriolanus Snow made to keep himself in power). Coin falls to her knees, arms outspread, and falls dead.
The March for Our Lives was peaceful and non-violent from its conception. Gun control movements have been, historically, and are non-violent in rhetoric and method. But the March for Our Lives speakers — one by one — walked deliberately to a microphone and spoke their resistance to corrupt power. They spoke this truth framed by the white logo backdrop backstage, the familiar crowned dome of the Capitol behind them. And on this stage that framed the Capitol Building off in the distance, performers sang their songs of resistance as they strode across the stage.
And as the speakers stood, the Capitol behind them, they looked upon a sea of young people stretching as far as anyone could see.