'Harry Potter' and 'The Hunger Games' fans urged to do good

Movies can inspire social action, says Andrew Slack, head of the Harry Potter Alliance. He challenges fans to 'fight injustices in our world the way [Harry Potter] fought injustices in his world.'

Lucas Jackson/Reuters/File
A Harry Potter fans wait in line at a movie theater before opening night of the final film in the series, 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2,' in New York last July.

The Hunger Games,” the new film based on the popular book by Suzanne Collins, has quickly become a blockbuster. Andrew Slack, executive director of the Harry Potter Alliance, a group of fans of another popular book and movie series, is hoping it can also inspire its fans to help change the world.

Mr. Slack, who co-founded the alliance in 2005, is now working on the Imagine Better Project, an effort to help fans “turn the fictions they love into the world they can imagine.”

One of the first campaigns asks fans of “The Hunger Games” to carry a pledge sheet to join Oxfam International’s campaign to fight hunger when they go to see the film and ask other moviegoers to sign up. The pledge sheet draws parallels between the movie’s dystopian world and problems in the real world.

That campaign was challenged by Lionsgate, the movie company distributing the film, but it eventually backed down and agreed to work with fans on the forthcoming movies in the series.

The Harry Potter Alliance has been using fiction to help solve real-world problems since Mr. Slack started posting advocacy messages on fan sites in 2005. He was motivated then by a lack of direction among Harry Potter fans: They were spending hours talking about Harry Potter’s character but not acting like him.

“He would fight injustices in our world the way he fought injustices in his world,” Mr. Slack says.

Within a few weeks, his messages were reaching more than 100,000 people. In the years since, the organization has donated 90,000 books around the world, sent five cargo planes of aid to Haiti, and is working on other issues such as gay rights, genocide, and fair-trade chocolate.

The organization has almost 90 local chapters and a staff of 70 volunteers.

“Just by harnessing the power of an untapped fan community,” Mr. Slack says. It’s a strategy he calls “cultural acupuncture.”

“We find where the energy is in the culture and authentically move with that energy,” he says. “Imagine looking at the movies, or looking at a sports event, and seeing all of the energy that’s already there. Then imagine taking that excitement and harnessing it toward social good.”

Any organization can use the same principles, Mr. Slack says.

He suggests nonprofits pay attention to forthcoming movies that have messages or plots that are tied to their missions. Groups can then try to connect with online fans and get them excited by creating Web pages or Tumblr pages that connect their missions and the film.

“Popular culture we oftentimes disregard, and that is at our own peril,” Mr. Slack says. “We need to be engaged.”

Watch a video interview with Andrew Slack here.

This article originally appeared at The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

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