What do you think of the amount of hate and animosity some people are directing towards The Hunger Games, for casting a beautiful African-American girl for the part of Rue?
edit: made rebloggable!
(asked by iwanttobelikearollingstone)
I am so mad at people over this. Rue was described as having “dark brown skin and eyes, but other than that, she’s very like Prim in size and demeanor.” Dark brown.
While many had hoped that the film would cast a woman at least ambiguously of color as Katniss due to being described as “olive-skinned,” our ask box has been loaded with people arguing that dark-skinned people can still be white! (Never mind that J. Law isn’t dark-skinned at all.) People were so unwilling to love and acknowledge a character who was explicitly of color that they would rather insist on a broader definition of whiteness. But I digress.
No, Collins never describes Rue as black, because that is not a meaningful racial category in the book. She is “dark brown,” and people are mad that they cast a relatively light-skinned brown girl in this role. People are so mad that they have to look at a black girl.
How mad are they? Mad enough to completely ignore the way that the book describes Rue. Mad that they were almost tricked into feeling human empathy for a black person:
Why are they so mad that a girl with “satiny brown skin” was played by, uh, a girl with “satiny brown skin”? (Other than because they’re racist and can’t stand the imposition of having to humanize black people.) I think a lot of it has to do with the way that Katniss parallels Rue and Prim, and people refuse to attach Prim’s innocence and purity to a black girl.
What I can’t understand is why people aren’t mad that Thresh has also been cast as a black man? Why are they totally fine with a brutish but noble man being black, but not a wily, pure, beloved, innocent girl?
A few things are pretty clear about the relationship between skin color and class as it relates to Katniss, Thresh, Rue, and the Everdeens:
- Thresh and Rue are both brown-skinned, and this is related to the fact that they are very poor, oppressed agricultural workers from district 11
- People who live in the Seam—including Katniss and her father—are olive-skinned with dark features, and this is very closely related to the fact that they are poor, oppressed and socially invisible miners
- Katniss’s mother is lily-white, and this is very closely related to the fact that she came from a merchant class
- Katniss’s feelings of affinity with Rue and Thresh are very closely related to the fact that they were also poor and oppressed workers
- Peeta comes from a merchant class, and has ashy blonde hair
- Katniss’s feelings of dissonance with Peeta are very closely related to the fact they he did not grow up hungry or in a poor and oppressed situation and as such she sometimes can’t relate to him
This isn’t about phenotypes, this is about a clear if unarticulated racial hierarchy in The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins’s dystopia is not a colorblind one, and white folks are pissed about it. It matters that Katniss was of color, that Rue was of color. It matters not only because we want girls of color to be allowed to see themselves in the media. It matters because it has everything to do with the Capitol and the class and power structures that Collins invented.
White people who read this kind of fiction want to see a colorblind world. They want to see a world which takes place in North America a few hundred years from now but where not only has the memory of slavery and colonialism been completely erased, but so have the formerly enslaved and the formerly colonized. And they want to see a dystopic future where they are the subjects of oppression. They want to see Winston Smith. They don’t want to see any people of color whatsoever.
And if they do have to look at a black face, they sure as hell don’t want to like it.
One thing that’s less clear (at least in The Hunger Games, I haven’t read the other two books yet) is the racial makeup of the Capitol itself. I imagine it’s not completely white but, you know, pretty white. The question most unanswered is that of Cinna: to my knowledge (at least in book one), Cinna is never described as a person of color. That’s why it’s so great to see Lenny Kravitz cast in this role—they cast a black man in a likeable, important role and they didn’t even have to! But I can’t help but wonder if it contributes to the image of a “colorblind” Panem, one in which race isn’t linked to class and power. (But I’m glad he’s got the part, anyway.)