Friday, March 8, 2013

Racism and The Hunger Games

As any of my friends could tell you, I’m obsessed with The Hunger Games. It’s one of my favorite books of all time (right after To Kill A Mockingbird), and last year, when the movie came out, I was naturally excited. My favorite character in the book is Rue, a twelve-year-old girl forced into a fight to the death with much older competitors.  In the novel, author Suzanne Collins describes the character Rue as having “dark brown skin and eyes” (page 45). Collins herself as even stated that Rue is African-American in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
However, when the casting announcements were made, many fans became enraged that Rue was being portrayed by the African-American Amandla Stenberg. Here are some of the best (or worst) tweets:

"Why does rue have to be black, not gonna lie kind ruined the movie"

"I was pumped about the Hunger Games. Until I learned a black girl was playing Rue"

“EWW Rue is black?? Im not watching”

“Kk call me racist but when I found out Rue was black her death wasn’t as sad”

I was shocked and horrified that people were disappointed in the casting choices because the actors were black. Rue is often a fan-favorite due to her purity and innocence in a dystopian world, and her death is a turning point in the novel. Not only did the tweeters express their surprise that Rue was black, but @jashperparas went even further to state that “her death wasn’t as sad” simply because of her race.
The tweets continued with the character of Thresh, played in the film by Dayo Okeniyi. In The Hunger Games, Collins writes that the “boy tribute from District 11, Thresh, has the same dark skin as Rue” (72), but that didn’t stop tweeters from saying things such as:

"Totally not expecting Thresh to be some big black guy"

In my opinion, the words “some big black guy” demeans the actor potraying Thresh by focusing only on his skin color rather than on his acting abilities. It seems strange that people had not imagined Rue and Tresh as being black, even though she is described that way in the novel. I think that people have an inclination towards imagining characters as being white, especially in fantasy or sci-fi novels. This is also expressed by Cinna, a character whose race is not mentioned in any of the three novels, who is portrayed by Lenny Kravitz. Tweets included:

"Why did the producer make all the good characters black"

" … I don't think he will be able to re-enact Cinna's calm temper and quiet personality … "

"Omg thought he was white crying omg wtf this movie will suck"

To me, all of these tweets are an indication of the level of racism that still exists today. Fans of a novel who had previously anticipated the movie were then disappointed that a character was not white. Of all of the tweets, the one that troubles me the most is the one stating that Rue’s death is somehow less sad because she is black. This is not just a problem that exists in one movie, or in the film industry, but in life. News stories are more likely to focus on black victims than white victims, and the death of a white child is usually presented as a bigger issue than the death of a black child.


  1. I was equally appalled by the comments made during the casting of the Hunger Games. After taking this class, it makes me realize that black stereotypes are still being perpetuated even by people of our generation. I don't understand how the viewers and readers didn't believe that a black girl could embody innocence and purity. It's reminiscent of what Danielle McGuire wrote in Dark End of the Street: black women were viewed as whores and lacking morality in their sexual lives. If a black woman was raped, she was asking for it. While (hopefully) the people that made such awful comments about Rue don't believe these things, it is obvious that traces of these negative stereotypes are still present today.

  2. I agree with you both completely. This is only one example of many in which our society is still appallingly racist today. Something that did surprise me, however, is how this hit so close to home. After The Hunger Games was released, one of my friends posted this status on Facebook: "That super awkward moment when Rue is some little black girl and not the innocent blonde girl I pictured... :(" This was absolutely disgusting to me. First, for the obvious reasons, that because Rue was African American she could not also be "innocent" like a blonde girl could. And second, because the girl who posted this status is someone that I talk to frequently and who has never been anything but friendly to me. This made me wonder: Are some of my closest friends or relatives racist without my knowledge? Before taking this class, I can't say that racism or the subject of black culture versus white culture came up too often in conversation, so the thought has never crossed my mind. And furthermore, do I display racist tendencies of my own without even realizing it? I'd like to think that no, of course I don't - but the fact that this girl who I associate with posted something so cruel and offensive has definitely made me more aware of the fact that racism is still extremely prevalent in our society today.