3 Fingers Against Tyranny: Hollywood's Supporting Role In Asia's Pro-Democracy Movements

Wednesday, May 12th 2021, 12:47 pm
By: CBS News

A three-fingered salute has united demonstrators against authoritarian regimes across southeast Asia, and as CBS News correspondent Holly Williams reports, the simple gesture has surprising origins in Hollywood.

In a handful of Asian countries, the gesture has become a powerful symbol of courageous defiance — a challenge to repressive governments that cuts across borders. 

It's been used in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where protesters against a military takeover are being murdered in cold blood, in Thailand, where they're demanding full democracy, and in Hong Kong, where years of protests against interference by the Chinese government have drawn millions onto the streets. 

"That cultural symbol really becomes a universal language," Nathan Law, a pro-democracy leader from Hong Kong who avoided arrest by fleeing to London, told CBS News. 

"That three finger signature," he told Williams, "it symbolizes a revolutionary stand of people... We wanted to have freedom and democracy."

If the three-fingered salute is familiar to you, you probably saw it in "The Hunger Games" movies, set in a post-apocalyptic world where the powerless raise their hands in resistance to a tyrannical regime. The films have earned almost $3 billion globally.

If it seems frivolous to link a life-and-death fight for freedom to a blockbuster Hollywood movie franchise, think again. Kyaw Win, a dissident from Myanmar, told CBS News the people on the streets of the embattled nation have very deliberately used the symbol to draw attention from America.

"We are sending these three-fingers message to people of U.S. and U.S. government to help us and to protect us," he told Williams. "This is inspiration come from you, and now we are sacrificing our life every day… Help us."

Nina Jacobson produced the Hunger Games movies, and she recognizes the international language of the symbolism.

"The people who are most often using the three fingers, it is because they cannot speak," she told CBS News. "It's a real reminder of the responsibility we have and the energy we create. But also, I guess, to live up to the values in our own democracy that we don't always manage."

Still, she said she never could have imagined the movies having such an impact on real life, and she calls it "an honor."

It's evidence of how America's staggering power comes not only from its military and its money, but from its culture. Hollywood may be driven by profit, but it also creates art that inspires and connects humans across borders.

"The penetration of the movie actually helps us to build up a common language," said Law. "Whenever they raise that gesture, we understand it because we have watched that movie, and that is the beauty of it."