Racism and The Hunger Games

| May 7, 2012 | 27 Comments More

the hunger games the world will be watching poster

Plenty of times in films – such as Thor – the issue of race causes some people to get up in arms on one side of some supposed fence or another.  This has seemed to especially plague The Hunger Games and subsequently, Catching Fire any time casting decisions are discussed, more so than in pretty much any other movie that comes to mind.

When Jennifer Lawrence was announced as Katniss, she drew criticism for being an older blonde white girl with curves instead of being a scrawny olive-skinned 16 year old with black hair.  Makeup and movie magic of course transformed her into a character closer to what is described in the books but the question still remained, why couldn’t they have just cast someone who had those characteristics to begin with?

When Amandla Stenberg (and to a lesser degree, Dayo Okeniyi) were revealed as Rue and Thresh there was a well publicized backlash against them being black.  The issue came up once again when the film was released as those who didn’t follow the casting saw the characters for the first time.  Despite being two of the most specifically described characters in the book as having very dark skin, there were complaints ranging from surprise to claiming that Rue not being “an innocent blonde white girl” ruined the movie.

The casting of Lenny Kravitz as the beloved Cinna was, I think, a surprise overall – he just wasn’t someone most people had imagined in the part.  Once again, though, the fact that he has black skin seemed to upset some people – not the fact that he was a left field casting choice or that he had almost zero acting experience despite the fact that Gary Ross specifically sought him out because he fulfilled the vision he had for the character.  Cinna’s physical description is very ambigious (as are many of the characters) in the book, with skin being a little darker than Katniss’s being about as specific as it got.  That could really mean he spent a lot of time in the tanning salon (he was a stylist after all) or was middle eastern, or mixed race, or really, just about anything but pale.  It seemed though, once again, that many people assumed he was white and some were all kinds of distraught at the thought of Cinna being anything but.

Now, as we get into the casting of the sequel, Catching Fire, the racial fires are flaring once again.  Particularly as fans discuss who should play Finnick.  Darker skinned Jesse Williams has come out as a fan favorite (despite having never heard of the character before he heard about the fans who wanted him in the part) and immediately there are those who say he in no way fits the description of being “extremely handsome, tall, muscular, and athletic, with tan skin, bronze-colored hair, and incredible sea green eyes.”  Sometimes it’s the fact that he’s not white that gets cited as the reason, other times he’s just not handsome enough in the eyes of a particular fan.  Once again, “tan skin,” and “bronze-colored hair” are somewhat ambiguous terms – Suzanne Collins seems to like to leave much up the readers’ imagination.

What is it about these characters that seems to be bringing out all sorts of racist comments from people?  Here’s what I think – Suzanne Collins has crafted characters that people care about.  They care about them a lot.  And as you read a story, you form a picture of them in your head and that picture becomes that character.  Especially if they are described in more ambiguous terms, it’s only logical that that picture will more often than not be someone that looks like you – whether you are white, black, Native American, Chinese, Mexican, or bright purple with six foot wings.

When that character comes to life in a movie, there is a good chance they won’t perfectly fit the vision in your head.  They may be taller, older, or a completely different race either because that’s what the director saw in their head or because the actor or actress is just a perfect fit with their personality and talent, regardless of if they look quite like what people might expect or not.

I’ll admit – I pictured Finnick, as well as most other characters as white.  It’s something that happens automatically, I think, because of my race and the fact that I grew up in an area that was not terribly diverse.  As long as an actor captures the essence of the character, though, I couldn’t care less what the color of their skin is.  In Finnick’s case, as long as his skin looks like someone who spent his life on the shore, fishing, it doesn’t really matter that means he’s got a surfer dude’s golden tan, a native Hawaiian’s darker skin, Jesse William’s racial background, or something else.

It is important to remember that just like you have a set-in-stone picture of that character in your head, so does everyone else, and it probably doesn’t match up with what yours looks like, but it’s just as right.  Unless you try to tell Suzanne Collins that Rue is not actually black, despite what she wrote.  Then you are wrong.

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Category: Catching Fire, Movie, News

Comments (27)

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  1. Sarah says:

    This is ridiculous. People need take the sticks out of their asses.

  2. Euragone says:

    Its just a Movie.. Gee Wiz people who get their pants all in a wad over who plays who… Lenny Kravitz, and Amandla Stenberg were great for their parts..

    My Issue was changes from book to movie.. Like Peeta talking about Katniss in the cave about her singing before the class and Mockingjays becoming silent and listening to her… The film needed minor changes, It was still a great movie and has changed the way I think about the Future of America and where its heading..

  3. #jesseforfinnick says:

    For the record I don’t think EVERYONE who doesn’t want Jesse is racist. While there have been some racists “Stupid Disgusting black guy,” etc… There were a few comments that were more ignorant that anything “Blacks don’t tan cos they’re tanned already,” “Finnick is not COLORED” and too many to count.

    The problem lies in when people are flexible to casting anyone who doesn’t “match” the description of Finnick when they are white because it’s who they want and then insist that as a black person, Jesse isn’t Finnick (despite matching most of the descriptors we do know about Finnick) cos Finnick is white. I’ve even hear Finnick is Blonde and blue eyed which is the absolutely wrong.

    It is ok to picture Finnick as white, most people will, it is the default face you will see in your head unless otherwise stated, however, people’s unwillingness to be open to the discussion of it, people claiming to NEVER WATCH THE MOVIE IF HE IS CAST, or to people straight up saying it’s not possible because “Finnick is white.” That’s the problem.

    Is it always racism? No. More race entitlement or race ignorance.

    Either way, it’s uncool and really sets the human race back. And also, like i said before. It’s gross.

    Actually correction. It’s sad. It makes me sad.

    • #jesseforfinnick says:

      Correction, the quote was actually “Blacks don’t tan cos they’re Black already.”

      • Rebecca R says:

        Which is funny because I’m a black woman and I get tanned/darker every summer from hanging out at my son’s baseball games, working in my garden, or going to the beach.

        I think Jesse would be an inspired choice for Finnick, btw… I remember seeing him in SotTP2. I was pleasantly speechless.

    • Love of Peeta says:

      You think everyone who doesn’t want Jesse is racist. Well I’m black and I don’t want Jesse he is a nice looking guy but Finnick is white. And I agree with Rebecca R. black people do get darker in sunlight. I can come inside two shades darker when I’m out for a long time.

      • Love of Peeta says:

        Sorry corection to my comment I meant to say u are right not everyone who doesn’t want Jesse is racist.

      • Love of Peeta says:

        Sorry correction to my comment I meant to say u are right not everyone who doesn’t want Jesse is racist.

  4. Mark says:

    A very well written piece here! I strongly agree with you. I think people need to understand this more. Everyone jumps to conclusions too quickly. Everyone needs to see the big picture here. I may have never thought once that Cinna would be black, but I kept an open mind and absolutely loved Lenny Kravitz in the part. Everyone and anyone who has a problem with who they cast or may be cast because of their race or how they look before they shoot the movie should read this. Good job, we needed someone to do this!

  5. Lea says:

    This issue is really eye-opening as a fan of the Hunger Games. I think that we assume that racism is a thing of the past, so when you hear a bunch of teenagers spewing out racist comments over such a little thing as actors in a movie, it’s really shocking and surprising. I guess as someone who grew up in a very liberal part of the country, with a lot of ethnic diversity, it’s not something that even really enters my mind (not to say that there isn’t racism, but it’s different in other parts of the country, I suppose.)

    This piece pinpointed exactly what I think the problem at hand is: it’s about the way that a particular person pictures a character in his or her head. I also imagined Cinna as being white, but seriously, who cares? Lenny Kravitz was awesome, and it had nothing to do with color– he’s just awesome, period. I think that people need to just understand that, even if they don’t think that they are making a racist comment when they say “this person shouldn’t be black/white/whatever”, that IS a comment that is going to be hurtful to someone. I’m shocked and saddened that more young people don’t realize that.

    • Georgianna says:

      I totally agree with you. Any given actor in this series, especially, where race is intended to be a minor factor, should be judged on acting ability alone. Props to you for realizing it! :o)

      • Dizz says:

        Yes! Call me naive but I was so shocked by all the stuff people were saying about Rue and how it took them out of the movie because she was black. I was flabergasted I thought that was a non issue in 2012 we have a black presidant but we can’t have a little girl play a part in a movie without people going nuts over it.

  6. Peeta rocks says:

    The reason why people got mad that Rue and Tresh were black is because clearly some people just didn’t read the book nothing more.

    The reason at least I was mad that Lenny was casted was because the reason why he was Casted iis because now a days you of you have a movie it won’t be popular unless it’s “diverse”. It is stupid. Now oter actors even I they are better then other actors won’t be chosen because there needs to be more diversity.

  7. Alyssa says:

    I’m perfectly with Cinna, and Rue, and Thresh. Cinna, he played the part so well and he looks like Cinna to me, so I don’t get why people get upset about it? He was perfect. Rue and Thresh were wonderful too, and I still cried so much when she died. </3 I'll be honest, though. I don't see Finnick being that guy, and I'll be even more honest in saying that I imagined him being white. I just have yet to run into someone with darker skin with sea green eyes, and I just think he should have green eyes, because I love how it meshes nicely with the sea he loves so much. I don't mind any of the other casting choices, I just don't see if as fitting Finnick or Annie. It's not because they are my favorite characters, because I have more favorites than that with Cinna and Peeta being at the very top of my list. Cinna was perfect just the way he was. I just don't see the same with Finnick.

  8. Georgianna says:

    One of the things I love about these books is that they don’t play into the natural segregation of the English language. That Suzanne Collins *never* defines someone as “black,” “white,” or any other color. She uses dark and light to define skin tones, but she uses language as a tool, not as a defining color block, black or white or brown. That being said, it’s the beauty of the ambiguity that the casting can be any color of the rainbow. For heavens sake, they could technically take someone of any race and dye their skin orange to play Finnick. Who cares, as the article states!

    Seriously, let’s stop the West Side Story nonsense, haven’t we grown past that?

  9. Autumn says:

    I honestly believe that as long as they are good actors and fit the part fairly well, skin color doesnt matter. Seriously, all these racist comments are making me sick. Who said white was the best color anyway? For the record, I bet half the people making the racist comments about actors not being american are probably not even american themselves. Just throwing that out there…

  10. hungergamesfan!!! says:

    Also, I saw a fan casting of Joanna Mason, with lots of people that they thought would suit her character. Most of them looked like Katniss was described as looking, with darker skin and hair, and below some people were complaining about how an actress who had shown interest was blond. Nowhere in the book is anything said about Joanna’s skin color, yet people assumed a stereotype based on… what? I think people should be chosen on their acting, and that when the entire Lionsgate company and several very good casters and directors say the are good enough (Not to mention Suzanne Collins), we should leave it to them instead of making judgements based on the way they look. This article is so sad :-(

    • Mrs Mellark says:

      There is hair dye .

      • hungergamesfan!!! says:

        Yes, and it’s sad that people are basing acting on what people look like- just because an actress is a certain race, how can that possible hamper her acting? It makes no sense :-(

  11. Cathy904 says:

    As long as Finnick is beautiful, and comes across as a Perfect looking man, it doesn’t matter what his skin color is.

    All the racism talk is not the subject of the books. Okay, so he won’t have the sea-green eyes. As long as he’s someone anyone could be attracted to, and has drop dead charisma, he’ll be Finnick.

    I can’t wait for the announcement as to who will be Finnick.

  12. Alice says:

    I just want to clear up one thing. It’s really easy to call all people who mention skin colour racist but it’s also wrong. Skin colour IS a very obvious physical difference, more visible than say, eye colour. Complaining that they don’t look like one’s imagination or the book description, is not the same as calling them racist names, boycotting the movie, and saying insulting things (which sadly have been done by some THG ‘fans’).
    As an exemple, I am furious that they didn’t make Harry Potter’s eyes green in the films, because they *should* have been. And if he’d been black, I wouldn’t have been happy either. But that has nothing to do with racism.
    In THG all characters more or less fit the descriptions but since Thor is mentioned in the post I thought it was important to point out that sticking to a description is NOT being racist.

    For the films, we have to let go of the way we built the characters in our heads, because not two of us in the world have the exact same version. As long as the character in the film (not the actor) fits the book’s description we have no right to complain. All the THG charcters fit their descriptions, and whether you like it or not, Jesse Williams absolutely fits Finnick’s description too. Of course you don’t *have* to like him but if they cast him, it won’t be “wrong”, and I’d love to see that happen.

    I’d rather whine about Katniss and Peeta’s eye colours being switched!!

  13. Mrs Mellark says:

    People who think like that are terrible

  14. Autumn says:

    I would also like to point out that while being racist is wrong there is a difference between racism and stating a discription of the character. If u were to say I think this person is great but they don’t really fit the characteristics is a whole lot different than saying I don’t want them to play this character cause they r African American. One is cruel and one is stating an opinion. Keep that in mind as u say wat character u like. We don’t want to be rude to others or make uneccesary issues. Thanks!!

  15. Peeta rocks says:

    It’s stupid why can’t we just stick to the book and cast people according to what the book say. Of the book says he is tan then make him tan not black

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